Dependency of Background Information on Context
The difficulty of the riddles discussed in the previous chapters consists in the fact that some information is wrongly assumed to be true, This information is assumed to be given; it functions as background information, it is hardly or not affected by the negation. The discussion of the difficulty of the riddles has focussed on the role of the second, i.e., the negative sentence. The question to be studied in this chapter is: Where does this background information come from? There are, no doubt, cultural factors involved, especially with respect to the observed male-female asymmetry. But also the context will determine which information is old or background and which information is new or foreground. The context for the negative sentence in the riddles is the first, i.e., the affirmative sentence. Thus, the question is to what extent the first sentence creates background information. That the first sentence has an important role in determining the background information is clear from the earlier experiments. Problems in which the gender of the term in the first sentence is the same as the gender of the term in the second sentence are more difficult to solve than problems with kinship terms of different sex. It should be noted, however, that this factor by itself cannot account for the difficulty of the problem. In fact, the item, e.g., A is the daughter of B, B is not the father of A was hard to solve and more difficult than all other items, except one, in Experiment I.
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