Semantic Prosody and Judgment

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Some words tend to co-occur exclusively with a positive or negative context in natural language use, even though such valence patterns are not dictated by definitions or are part of the words’ core meaning. These words contain semantic prosody, a subtle valenced meaning derived from co-occurrence in language. As language and thought are heavily intertwined, we hypothesized that semantic prosody can affect evaluative inferences about related ambiguous concepts. Participants inferred that an ambiguous medical outcome was more negative when it was caused, a verb with negative semantic prosody, than when it was produced, a synonymous verb with no semantic prosody (Studies 1a, 1b). Participants completed sentence fragments in a manner consistent with semantic prosody (Study 2), and semantic prosody affected various other judgments in line with evaluative inferences (estimates of an event’s likelihood in Study 3). Finally, semantic prosody elicited both positive and negative evaluations of outcomes across a large set of semantically prosodic verbs (Study 4). Thus, semantic prosody can exert a strong influence on evaluative judgment.

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