An investigation of lexical-syntactic representations using structural priming

Roger van Gompel*, Laura Wakeford, Leila Kantola

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to conferencePoster


Structural priming, the finding that speakers tend to repeat syntactic structures across utterances, is stronger when the verb is repeated between prime and target (Pickering & Branigan, 1998). This is taken as evidence that syntactic structures are mentally represented with their syntactic head, the verb, which determines whether the structure is grammatically acceptable. However, it is unclear whether structures are represented only with the head verb or also with other verbs. To investigate this, we manipulated the repetition of verbs that were not the head of the primed structure in three experiments. Participants read primes such as the painter hesitated to give {the apprentice the ladder, the ladder to the apprentice} and then completed target fragments such as the farmer {hesitated, decided} to hand ... Here, the matrix verb (hesitated) is not the head of the primed structure (the apprentice the ladder/the ladder to the apprentice). All experiments showed clear structural priming, but no evidence that it was stronger when the matrix verb (hesitated, decided) was repeated. We conclude that structures are not represented with verbs that are not their head. More generally, our results show that structures are not associated with all content words (cf. Scheepers et al., 2017).
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages2
Publication statusPublished - 9 Jan 2020
Externally publishedYes
EventExperimental Psychology Society: London Meeting - London, United Kingdom
Duration: 8 Jan 202010 Jan 2020


ConferenceExperimental Psychology Society
Abbreviated titleEPS
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


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