Context-independent and Context-Dependent Information in Concepts

This experiment is based on the following paper:

Barsalou, L.W. (1982). Context-independent and context-dependent information in concepts. Memory & Cognition, 10, 82-93. Reprinted by permission by the Psychonomic Society, Inc.


Barsalou proposed that two types of properties are associated with concepts. Context-independent properties form the “core meanings of a word” and are activated whenever the word is accessed from memory. Context-dependent properties are activated only in the presence of a relevant context. Take, for example, the word ‘bear’. Some context independent (CI) properties of ‘bear’ could include ‘is furry’, or ‘can be dangerous’. The sentence “The bear caught pneumonia,” could activate context dependent (CD) properties like ‘can be sick’ or ‘has lungs’. These are properties which ‘bear’ does indeed have but which would not be activated without proper context. In a series of experiments, Barsalou attempted to determine if words possess one, the other, or both of these types of properties.

He presented subjects with concept-words in sentences, followed by properties which may or may not belong to the word. If they do, the properties may be either CD or CI. His theory predicted that response time would be faster to CD properties when the sentence is relevant, while context should not affect reaction time to CI properties.


The full text describing the experiment is available here.

The experiments are available below. (115 KB) (187 KB)