Since Garvey and Caramazza (1974) psycholinguists have investigated a feature of verbs termed implicit causality. Verbs differ in whether they associate a cause to the agent or patient: verbs such as blame or admire attribute the cause to the patient and are referred to as N2 verbs; N1 verbs such as phone or amaze impute causality to the agent. An explicitly mentioned cause is harder to understand when it is incongruent with the verbs implicit causality (e.g., Stewart et al., 2000).
The present study examined the source of this implicit causality feature. We began by focusing on the strength of the implicit causality bias of the verb itself. We also sought to determine the relationship between this bias and verb argument structure. Therefore we looked at four verb types separately: agent-patient (AP), agent-evocator (AE), stimulus-experiencer (SE), and experiencer-stimulus (ES) verbs. Rudolph and Fösterling (1997) showed this taxonomy can account for up to 90% of the variance in causal attributions.
In the first experiment, 140 verbs taken from the psycholinguistic literature were tested in a completion task. Participants read John blamed Bill because and provided a continuation. This experiment revealed that the bias was especially strong with SE (80% N1), ES (81% N2) and AE verbs (76% N2). The AP verb bias was significantly weaker (58% N1).
The second experiment was similar except that the conjunction because was omitted. This change allowed us to isolate the implicit causality of the verb itself from the contribution of the connective. As expected, participants provided fewer causal completions. Interestingly, this was especially true for AP verbs (only 41%). The other verb types elicited significantly more causes: 59% to 75%, even though neither the instructions nor materials mentioned causes. Moreover, within these causal continuations the N1 or N2 bias was identical to the one in Experiment 1, suggesting that the implicit causality bias is not enhanced by explicit cues. Finally, verb type had a major effect: e.g., following ES verbs many continuations started with because or for, whereas following SE verbs people used with or when more often to convey the cause.
These findings suggest that implicit causality is an inherent feature of certain verbs, and that it emerges even without causal connectives. Moreover, it appears that causality is related to verb argument information. These ideas will be examined further in an eye-tracking experiment, to see how verb causality affects the online processing of sentences.
Garvey, C., & Caramazza, A. (1974). Implicit causality in verbs. Linguistic Inquiry, 5, 459-464.
Rudolph, U., & Fösterling, F. (1997). The psychological causality implicit in verbs: A review. Psychological Bulletin, 121(2), 192-218.
Stewart, A. J., Pickering, M. J., & Sanford, A. J. (2000). The time course of the influence of implicit causality information: Focusing versus integration accounts. Journal of Memory and Language, 42, 423-443.