The research project has two major objectives:
1. An in-depth study of cognitive control in the process of visual word recognition
2. The integration of research on intralingual and interlingual lexical processing
1. The process of cognitive control in visual word recognition has almost exclusively focussed on an unconscious suppression process. For instance, it has been shown that such a process inhibits irrelevant representations when bilinguals read interlingual homographs (Dijkstra et al, 1998). One goal of the proposed research project is to extend the study of cognitive control to conscious suppression processes. We will take the intriguing research by Wegner and co-workers (1987) as a starting-point. These researchers demonstrated that the conscious suppression of thoughts paradoxically leads to a stronger activation of these thoughts, which increases rather than decreases their saliency in the subject’s mind. By analogy we want to find out whether consciously attempting to ignore irrelevant lexical information paradoxically activates that information even stronger, thus making the suppression process harder rather than easier.
2. In the literature there are two lines of research on the processing of ambiguous words: research on words with more than one meaning in the same language (e.g., English bank), which we will call intralingual homographs, and research on words with different meanings in different languages (e.g., English room, which means ‘cream’ in Dutch), which we will call interlingual homographs. In both situations the problem facing the language processor may not differ much between the two types: in each case an irrelevant reading must be suppressed. Even though at first sight the difference between monolingual and bilingual processing seems a sufficient reason to study these word types separately, the consensus in the literature on bilingual processing suggests otherwise. According to this view, language users have an integrated mental lexicon, storing the words from all languages they know, and a mechanism of language-independent lexical access. The existence of a single lexicon for all languages makes it likely that both types of ambiguity (within and between languages) are solved similarly. Accordingly, bringing intralingual and interlingual homographs together in a single research project may shed light on common mechanisms in monolingual and bilingual processing that have thus far escaped the attention of psycholinguists.