Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Thesis



First Advisor

Amit Almor


The present study examines how working memory affects how participants process idiomatic expressions. In Experiment 1, participants read idiomatic, literal and nonsense sentences at an experimenter controlled rate then judged whether or not the sentence made sense. In Experiment 2, participants read idiomatic and literal sentences at their own pace and answered comprehension questions about some of the items. In Experiment 1, the variables of familiarity, decompositionality and final word predictability were associated with faster reaction times for low working memory participants while familiarity and literal plausibility were associated with faster reaction times for high working memory participants. In Experiment 2, familiarity was associated with faster reaction times for low working memory participants and meaningfulness with slower reaction times while in the high working memory group, noun frequency was associated with faster reading times and decompositionality with slower reaction times. The decompositionality results extend the results of previous studies with older versus younger adults which show that older adults prefer decomposable idioms compared to younger controls (Titone & Westbury 2010, Papagno & Muggia (2003). One compelling explanation for why decompositionality exerts different effects on high versus low working memory participants is related to differences in the ability to inhibit irrelevant information. Overall, the results show that working memory can have a significant impact on idiom processing; idioms vary greatly in certain properties that have been shown to affect processing and these properties in turn, affect high and low working memory participants differently. Overall, this shows that idiom comprehension is a dynamic process that is influenced by multiple constraints related to the properties of the idiom and the comprehender.


© 2012, Amy Henderson