Generics Are a Cognitive Default: Evidence From Sentence Processing

Abstract

We tested the hypothesis that generics (e.g., *Dogs* have four legs) are a cognitive default, thereby allowing faster and less effortful processing in comparison to quantified noun phrases (e.g., all dogs). Participants judged sentences containing either generics or universally-quantified noun phrases as true or false. Under time pressure, participants treated universally-quantified noun phrases as if they were generics (e.g., responding true to "All dogs have four legs," despite the existence of three-legged dogs). Participants also took longer to respond to sentences with universal quantifiers vs. generics. Data thus support a generics-as-default account.


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