Neighing, Barking, and Drumming Horses—Object Related Sounds Help and Hinder Picture Naming

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The study presented here investigated how environmental sounds influence picture naming. In a series of four experiments participants named pictures (e.g., the picture of a horse) while hearing task-irrelevant sounds (e.g., neighing, barking, or drumming). Experiments 1 and 2 established two findings, facilitation from congruent sounds (e.g., picture: horse, sound: neighing) and interference from semantically related sounds (e.g., sound: barking), both relative to unrelated sounds (e.g., sound: drumming). Experiment 3 replicated the effects in a situation in which participants were not familiarized with the sounds prior to the experiment. Experiment 4 replicated the congruency facilitation effect, but showed that semantic interference was not obtained with distractor sounds which were not associated with target pictures (i.e., were not part of the response set). The general pattern of facilitation from congruent sound distractors and interference from semantically related sound distractors resembles the pattern commonly observed with distractor words. This parallelism suggests that the underlying processes are not specific to either distractor words or distractor sounds but instead reflect general aspects of semantic-lexical selection in language production. The results indicate that language production theories need to include a competitive selection mechanism at either the lexical processing stage, or the prelexical processing stage, or both.

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