In search of ambiguity

Donald G. Mackay, Thomas G. Bever

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

44 Scopus citations


A study of the time required for Ss to perceive the two meanings of ambiguous sentences, supports the following conclusions: (I) Perception time (PT) is a function of the type of ambiguity, three of which are defined in this study. (2) A similar relative function was obtained for the PT in sentences with more than one ambiguity and for sentences with only a single ambiguity. (3) The PT for finding a single ambiguity in such multiply ambiguous sentences was significantly longer than in singly ambiguous sentences. (4) When one of the interpretations of certain types of ambiguous sentences is less likely than the other (where likeliness is defined in terms of the number of Ss perceiving that inter-pretation first)PT is high. (5) Complexity of the surface and underlying structures (which are defined in transformational grammar) is an important determinant of the PT for surface and underlying structure ambiguities, respectively.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)193-200
Number of pages8
JournalPerception & Psychophysics
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1967

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Sensory Systems
  • General Psychology


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