Date of Award


Publication Type


Degree Name




First Advisor

Lori Buchanan


Psychology, Ambiguous, Language processing, Puns, Right Hemisphere Hypothesis, Word resolution



Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.


Right frontal hemispheric stroke causes cognitive difficulties that include loss of appreciation of verbal humour (Shammi & Stuss, 1999). Although nonverbal creativity and working memory have been linked to this impairment, a deficit in the coordination and comprehension of ambiguous verbal material is likely to playa significant role. In this way, the Right Hemisphere Hypothesis of language processing (Coltheart, 1987) might contribute a plausible explanation for deficits in humour appreciation post-stroke, which would inform models of normal language processing. Through a series of four experiments, the current study contributes knowledge regarding the hemispheric specialization of processing puns. Puns were chosen for their propensity to force dual ambiguity resolution in a humourous context. Results from a single-word lexical decision task demonstrated priming for dominant associates of ambiguous targets. A centralized lexical decision task with pun primes and dominant, subordinate, and unrelated targets showed strongest priming for dominant relatives. A divided visual field study revealed that at 500 ms ISI, both hemispheres activated, but the left activated in such a way as to suggest that its pattern was driving the results for the centralized study. In contrast to the lexical decision data that favoured the dominant targets, data from a forced-choice relatedness task showed an advantage for the subordinate associates. Results from this series of experiments provide a working model of how puns are processed in neurologically intact individuals and contribute to the body of literature supporting the Right Hemisphere Hypothesis of language processing.