The semantic organisation of proper nouns: The case of people and brand names

  • Crutch S
  • Warrington E
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Abstract

We describe the performance of a patient (AZ) with a semantic refractory access disorder on a series of experiments probing comprehension of two broad proper noun categories, namely person names and brand names. By inducing and manipulating the semantic relatedness effects which are commonly observed in semantic refractory access patients, we demonstrate that famous person knowledge is primarily organised by occupation, whilst knowledge of brands is organised by product type. For instance, we show that AZ has significantly greater difficulty identifying a famous person from among distractor personalities who have the same occupation (e.g. composers: Beethoven, Mozart, Handel, and Bach) than those who have different occupations (e.g. Beethoven, Picasso, Shakespeare, and Jefferson). We also show that such semantic relatedness effects do not occur when stimuli are grouped by another variable such as nationality. We argue that these semantic distance effects reflect the greater build-up of refractoriness among concepts which are supported by shared neural circuitry. In psychological space, it seems natural that these individuals should be classified in this way. The strength of our findings lie in the fact that this organisation of psychological space is mirrored by neural organisation. Thus, we report a previously undocumented degree of fine-grain organisation within conceptual knowledge of these classes of proper nouns. We also interpret our data as providing the strongest empirical support to date for the semantic module of cognitive models of person recognition. © 2003 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Access
  • Conceptual knowledge
  • Person recognition
  • Refractoriness

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Authors

  • Sebastian J. Crutch

  • Elizabeth K. Warrington

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