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Fictive Motion as Cognitive Simulation

Matlock, Teenie
Fictive motion as cognitive simulation‘, Memory & Cognition, 32 (8), 1389-400, 2004

    Sentences such as ‘The road runs through the valley’ and ‘The mountain range goes from Canada to Mexico’ include a motion verb but express no explicit motion or state change. It is argued that these sentences involve fictive motion, an implicit type of motion. But do people trying to understand these sentences mentally simulate motion?

    This question was addressed in four experiments. In each, participants read a story about travel-for instance, fast versus slow, short versus long distance, and easy versus difficult terrain-and then made a timed decision about a fictive motion sentence. Overall, latencies were shorter after they had read about fast travel, short distances, and easy terrains. Critically, the effect did not arise with nonfictive motion target sentences (e.g., The road is in the valley).

    Fictive motion is shown in sentences like ‘A line of trees runs along the driveway’, where nothing is actually running.

    Longer paths, or ones that cross more difficult terrain or greater distance, take longer to comprehend, even controlled for the number of words or complexity of description.

    This may seem obvious – but it runs counter to the usual assumptions of most of the field, which thinks of your brain as much like a dictionary, where senses of words are ‘looked up’ when you hear them, so it’s a really nice result.

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