Hemispheric asymmetries in meaning selection: Evidence from the disambiguation of homophonic vs. heterophonic homographs

Orna Peleg, Andrey Markus, Zohar Eviatar

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Research investigating hemispheric asymmetries in meaning selection using homophonic homographs (e.g., bank), suggests that the left hemisphere (LH) quickly selects contextually relevant meanings, whereas the right hemisphere (RH) maintains a broader spectrum of meanings including those that are contextually irrelevant (e.g., Faust & Chiarello, 1998). The present study investigated cerebral asymmetries in maintaining the multiple meanings of two types of Hebrew homographs: homophonic homographs and heterophonic homographs (e.g., tear). Participants read homographs preceded by a biasing, or a non-biasing sentential context, and performed a lexical decision task on targets presented laterally, 1000. ms after the onset of the sentence-final ambiguous prime. Targets were related to either the dominant or the subordinate meaning of the preceding homograph, or unrelated to it. When targets were presented in the LVF/RH, dominant and subordinate meanings, of both types of homographs, were retained only when they were supported by context. In a non-biasing context, only dominant meanings of homophonic homographs were retained. Alternatively, when targets were presented in the RVF/LH, priming effects for homophonic homographs were only evident when meanings were supported by both context and frequency (i.e., when context favored the dominant meaning). In contrast, heterophonic homographs resulted in activation of dominant meanings, in all contexts, and activation of subordinate meanings, only in subordinate-biasing contexts. The results challenge the view that a broader spectrum of meanings is maintained in the right than in the left hemisphere and suggest that hemispheric differences in the time course of meaning selection (or decay) may be modulated by phonology.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)328-337
Number of pages10
JournalBrain and Cognition
Issue number3
StatePublished - Dec 2012

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by the Israel Science Foundation (Grant No. 956/06 ).


  • Ambiguity
  • Cerebral asymmetry
  • Divided visual field
  • Homographs
  • Priming
  • Semantic processing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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