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Variability driven animacy effects: evidence of structural, not conceptual differences in processing animates and inanimates

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article


Journal publication date2010
Number of pages19
Original languageEnglish


The present eye-tracking study demonstrates that when animate and inanimate object pictures are presented within a single-study, there are no systematic differences between processing these two categories objects. Although participants were taking less time to initiate their first gaze towards animate than to inanimate objects, a result compatible with findings of Proverbio et al. (2007), it turned out that this quicker initiation of the first look in animates was driven by mammals and reptiles only and did not apply to insects or aquatic animals, most probably due to the structural differences within these subcategories. Fixations in this study do not cluster around certain features or areas of the objects for either animate or inanimate categories. Moreover, detailed analysis of looking behaviour does not reveal a clear animate-inanimate distinction.

Thus, given the failure of finding systematic differences between animates and inanimates when assessed using various looking behaviour measurements, the results do not support the prediction from modality specific conceptual account. In fact, these results are more in agreement with an alternative, distributed account of semantic representation that explains processing differences by structural differences between animate and inanimate objects.