Hemispheric asymmetries in semantic processing: Evidence from false memories for ambiguous words

Miriam Faust, Elisheva Ben-Artzi, Itay Harel

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22 Scopus citations


Previous research suggests that the left hemisphere (LH) focuses on strongly related word meanings; the right hemisphere (RH) may contribute uniquely to the processing of lexical ambiguity by activating and maintaining a wide range of meanings, including subordinate meanings. The present study used the word-lists false memory paradigm [Roediger, H. L. III., & McDermott, K. B. (1995). Creating false memories: Remembering words not presented in lists. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 21, 803-814.] to examine whether these differences between the two cerebral hemispheres in semantic processing also affect memory representations for different meanings of ambiguous words. Specifically, we tested the differences between the LH and RH in recollecting unpresented, semantically related, ambiguous words following the presentation of lists of words all related to either the dominant or the subordinate meanings of these ambiguous words. Findings showed that for the unpresented ambiguous words, the LH made more false alarms than the RH for the dominant lists, whereas the opposite pattern emerged for subordinate lists. Moreover, d′ analyses showed that, whereas the LH was more sensitive to subordinate than dominant meanings, the RH showed no differences in sensitivity for the two types of word-lists. Taken as a whole, these results support the RH coarse semantic coding theory [Beeman, M. (1998). Coarse semantic coding and discourse comprehension. In Beeman & M., Chiarello, C. (Eds.), Right hemisphere language comprehension: Perspectives from cognitive neuroscience (pp. 255-284). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum; Jung-Beeman, M. (2005). Bilateral brain processes for comprehending natural language. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 9, 512-518.] indicating that during word recognition, the RH activates and maintains a broader and less differentiated range of related meanings than the LH, including both dominant and subordinate meanings of ambiguous words. Furthermore, the findings suggest that hemispheric differences in ambiguity resolution during language processing extend also to verbal memory.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)220-228
Number of pages9
JournalBrain and Language
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 2008


  • False memory
  • Hemispheres
  • Lexical ambiguity
  • Semantic processing
  • Visual fields


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