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Linguistics and Cognitive Science

The Death of "Negative" Polarity Items

Sam Cunningham ('11); Mentor: Jay Atlas

Abstract: In 1991, Professor Jay Atlas illuminated a kink in the standardly accepted theory of semantic negativity and negative polarity items (NPIs) originally proposed by William Ladusaw (1979). Atlas (1991, 1996b, 2006) showed that while Ladusaw’s theory was simple and elegant it could not fully explain why the quantifier licenses NPIs, despite the fact that it is non-monotonic (neither positive nor negative). Two camps, the symmetricalists (lead by Atlas) and the asymmetricalists (lead by Larry Horn) have been arguing over whether Ladusaw’s theory is salvageable. I read the full dialogue between the two camps, as well as adapted Mats Rooth’s theory of focus (1992) to explain previous intuitions about the data. In my paper, I show that the remaining arguments for Ladusaw’s theory are based on misleading evidence, and present a new piece of data that cannot be explained by said theory.
Funding provided by The Faucett Family Foundation

Hiding in Plain Sight: The "Purloined" Letter

Anna Gibson ('12); Elizabeth Graham (CGU); Mentor: Deborah Burke

Abstract: Inattentional blindness is when a person fails to notice an unexpected stimulus during an attention-demanding task. Graham and Burke (in press) found that older adults have more inattentional blindness than young adults. This finding contradicts the theory that older adults lose the ability to “filter out” extraneous information and therefore older adults would always see the unexpected object. In an alternative model older adults’ general attentional capacity is reduced, so an attention demanding task places a greater cognitive demand on an older than a young adult, leading to more inattentional blindness for extraneous stimuli. This project tests this theory by controlling for individual differences in attentional capacity by varying the attentional load for each participant so that the cognitive demand of the task is the same across age. Under these conditions, we should eliminate age differences in inattentional blindness.
Funding provided by The Aubrey H. and Eileen J. Seed Award

Research at Pomona