Can Neural Adaptation Explain Word Choice?


Speakers refer to objects using terms on various levels of description. Labeling a poodle, they use the subordinate term “poodle” or the basic term “dog”. Our model attributes these effects to visual context, relying on the domain general mechanism of neural adaptation. Two SOMs represent visual and auditory categories. Word learning is modeled via simultaneous presentation of item and word form and the creation of Hebbian synapses. Neural adaptation causes a decrease of activation in repeatedly activated nodes. We predicted that as a result of this, when presented alone or alongside a distractor from another basic category, an item will be referred to by its basic term, while the presence of a distractor from the same basic category will induce a shift to the target’s subordinate label. Three simulations taking into account the relative frequency of an item's basic and subordinate level labels supported this hypothesis.

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