Cognitive control in processing ambiguous idioms: evidence from a self-paced reading study

Tamar Arnon, Michal Lavidor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Idioms entail a competition between bottom-up and top-down activations of literal and figurative meanings. The present study explored the involvement of cognitive control in processing Hebrew ambiguous idioms. Fifty subjects have completed a self-paced reading task and a response inhibition, stop-signal task (SST). Subjects read 26 matched pairs of almost-identical sentences, which included ambiguous idioms (e.g., “break the ice”). The ambiguity was resolved only in the third part of the sentence, which was either literal (“on the parking lot”) or figurative (“with funny stories”). Figurative disambiguation parts were read significantly faster than literal ones. The means of the absolute RT difference between the literal and figurative sentences significantly correlated with the SST cognitive control measure. A comparison between three groups of cognitive control levels validated that “Good inhibitors” in the SST were also faster in processing ambiguities. The paper discusses the generality of cognitive control in linguistic processing.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)261-281
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Psycholinguistic Research
Issue number1
Early online date22 Mar 2022
StatePublished - Feb 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by Israel Science Foundation (ISF) (Grant numbers 367/14).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022, The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature.


  • Ambiguity
  • Cognitive control
  • Idioms
  • Inhibition
  • Self-Paced Reading


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