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When participants in an experiment have to name pictures while ignoring distractor words superimposed on the picture or presented auditorily (i.e., picture-word interference paradigm), they take more time when the word to be named (or target) and distractor words are from the same semantic category (e.g., cat-dog). This experimental effect is known as the semantic interference effect, and is probably one of the most studied in the language production literature. The functional origin of the effect and the exact conditions in which it occurs are however still debated. Since Lupker reported the effect in the first response time experiment exactly 40 years ago, more than 300 similar experiments have been conducted. The semantic effect was replicated in many experiments, but several studies also reported an absence of effect in a subset of experimental conditions. The aim of the present study is to provide a comprehensive theoretical review of the existing evidence to date and several Bayesian meta-analyses to determine the size of the effect and explore the experimental conditions in which the effect surfaces. The results are discussed in the light of current debates about the functional origin of the semantic interference effect and its implications for our understanding of the language production system.
This study was accepted for publication in the Journal of Memory and Language. The scripts and datasets to reproduce the analyses reported in the paper can be found in this repository.