The Cognitive Processing of Categorical and Featural Semantic Associations: An Event-Related Potential Study of Hong Kong Cantonese


Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

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Award date15 Jun 2022


Being categorical is a fundamental property of the lexical semantic network as well as the cognitive mechanism underlying information processing of the human mind. People categorize, integrate and organize their experience into mental representations when interacting with daily surroundings, even within the first few seconds of contact. Variances exhibited in such process reflected as individualized knowledge structure and retrieval strategies can be traced back to and explained by the differences in cognitive ability, life experience, language and cultural background, and personality traits.

This study aims to find out how human mind process lexical-level categorical information in real time, and how openness as the most relevant personality trait to cognitive and verbal ability modulates the cognitive process portrayed in real time, by high temporal resolution data from electroencephalogram (EEG) method and the Event-Related-Potential (ERP) experiments. While behavioral results were consistent across participants of both high/low openness, their brain potential measurements show strategic differences in semantic retrieval and possibly the variance of cognitive flexibility when dealing with categorical and associative information, even at the lexical level.

This study was the first to demonstrate how profound and fundamental the effect of personality traits would penetrate the online processing language information. The findings add to the understanding of basic level language processing mechanism and reveal the systemic modulations on real-time information processing imposed by personal dispositional differences. Finally, the building and sharing a normative categorical lexical database of considerable size and coverage in Hong Kong Cantonese would also benefit future studies in multiple research fields and disciplines.