Putting concepts into context
Thompson-Schill, Sharon L.
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Yee, E. & Thompson-Schill, S.L. Psychon Bull Rev (2016) 23: 1015. https://doi.org/10.3758/s13423-015-0948-7
At first glance, conceptual representations (e.g., our internal notion of the object Blemon^) seem static; we have the impression that there is something that the concept lemon Bmeans^ (a sour, yellow, football-shaped citrus fruit) and that this meaning does not vary. Research in semantic memory has traditionally taken this Bstatic^ perspective. Consequently, only effects demonstrated across a variety of contexts have typically been considered informative regarding the architecture of the semantic system. In this review, we take the opposite approach: We review instances of context-dependent conceptual activation at many different timescales—from long-term experience, to recent experience, to the current task goals, to the unfolding process of conceptual activation itself—and suggest that the pervasive effects of context across all of these timescales indicate that rather than being static, conceptual representations are constantly changing and are inextricably linked to their contexts.