The Cognitive Dynamics of Negated Sentence Verification

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85 Scopus citations


We explored the influence of negation on cognitive dynamics, measured using mouse-movement trajectories, to test the classic notion that negation acts as an operator on linguistic processing. In three experiments, participants verified the truth or falsity of simple statements, and we tracked the computer-mouse trajectories of their responses. Sentences expressing these facts sometimes contained a negation. Such negated statements could be true (e.g., "elephants are not small") or false (e.g., "elephants are not large"). In the first experiment, as predicted by the classic notion of negation, we found that negation caused more discreteness in the mouse trajectory of a response. The second experiment induced a simple context for these statements, yet negation still increased discreteness in trajectories. A third experiment enhanced the pragmatic context of sentences, and the discreteness was substantially diminished, with one primary measure no longer significantly showing increased discreteness at all. Traditional linguistic theories predict rapid shifts in cognitive dynamics occur due to the nature of negation: It is an operator that reverses the truth or falsity of an interpretation. We argue that these results support both propositional and contextual accounts of negation present in the literature, suggesting that contextual factors are crucial for determining the kind of cognitive dynamics displayed. We conclude by drawing broader lessons about theories of cognition from the case of negation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)983-996
Number of pages14
JournalCognitive Science
Issue number5
StatePublished - Jul 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Action
  • Cognitive dynamics
  • Discrete and continuous processing
  • Negation
  • Pluralism
  • Sentence verification

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Artificial Intelligence


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