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Word-to-text integration and antecedent accessibility: Eye-tracking evidence extends results of event-related potentials (ERPs)

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Abstract

Eye tracking and event-related potentials (ERPs) have complementary advantages in the study of reading processes. We used eye tracking to extend ERP evidence of Helder et al. (2020) that word-to-text integration at the beginnings and ends of sentences is primarily determined by local text factors (antecedents in a previous sentence) but that global factors (central theme) may make these antecedents more accessible in memory and thus facilitate their integration. The ERP evidence for these conclusions comes from the N400 on a target noun, which varied with the appearance of an antecedent in the previous sentence and whether that antecedent was related to the passage theme. Here, using the same materials, we report eye tracking evidence that reflects not only integration processes indexed by fixation on target words and words following, but also regressions to the antecedent, a measure not possible with ERPs. Interestingly, conclusions from eye-tracking measures align generally with those from Helder et al., but reading times did not consistently correspond to reduced N400s. A distinctive eye-tracking result is that when antecedents were not related to the central theme of the passage (thus less accessible in memory) there was a greater likelihood of return to the antecedent from the regions beyond the target word. These findings demonstrate an independent influence of both local and global context on reading patterns that are unique to eye-tracking measurement, thus both converging with ERP conclusions and adding new ones. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2022 APA, all rights reserved).

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The effects of sentential context and semantic memory structure during on-line sentence processing were examined by recording event-related brain potentials as individuals read pairs of sentences for comprehension. The first sentence established an expectation for a particular exemplar of a semantic category, while the second ended with (1) that expected exemplar, (2) an unexpected exemplar from the same (expected) category, or (3) an unexpected item from a different (unexpected) category. Expected endings elicited a positivity between 250 and 550 ms while all unexpected endings elicited an N400, which was significantly smaller to items from the expected category. This N400 reduction varied with the strength of the contextually induced expectation: unexpected, categorically related endings elicited smaller N400s in more constraining contexts, despite their poorer fit to context (lower plausibility). This pattern of effects is best explained as reflecting the impact of context-independent long-term memory structure on sentence processing. The results thus suggest that physical and functional similarities that hold between objects in the world—i.e., category structure—influence neural organization and, in turn, routine language comprehension processes.
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We present three event-related potential studies that investigated the contribution of givenness and position-induced topicality (what a sentence is about) to information processing. The studies compared two types of referential expressions (given and inferred noun phrases (NPs)) in distinct sentential positions. The data revealed position-specific effects, reflected by an interaction of topicality and givenness: inferred NPs registered a more pronounced Late Positivity than given NPs in the canonical sentence-medial position, but not sentence-initially (Experiment 1). Additionally, there was a stable effect of givenness across positions, reflected by an N400 for inferred over given NPs. From a discourse dynamic perspective, the N400 is considered to reflect context-induced linking processes. The Late Positivity is associated with maintaining and updating discourse structure and manifests position-specific instructions for information storage. Subsequent studies strengthened this information packaging account by showing that the Late Positivity pattern is unaffected by syntactic function reanalysis (Experiment 2) or dislocation demands (Experiment 3).
Article
In two reading time and recall experiments readers were found to be sensitive to the episodic structure of simple two-episode stories. This conclusion was supported by the pattern of subject-paced reading times of episodic nodes. Reading times were higher at the boundary nodes of an episode and lower at the remaining nodes than would be expected on the basis of the number of words and the serial position of the node within the story. This pattern of reading times was attributed to a greater ‘load’ of encoding at the boundary constituents than at other points in the episode. Recall percentages were consistently higher for beginning, attempt, and outcome than for other constituents. Reading times relative to recall were consistently fastest for beginning, attempt, and outcome. The consistency of the pattern of these two measures across different episodes and stories was interpreted as supporting the validity of episodic nodes.
Article
Conducted 2 experiments to examine the processing of garden path sentences such as While the boy scratched the dog yawned loudly. The ambiguous phrase of such sentences was varied, and the task of the 64 undergraduates was to read each sentence while their eye movements were monitored and then judge whether the sentence was grammatical. Early closure sentences were judged grammatical less often than were late closure sentences. Sentences with a long ambiguous phrase were judged grammatical less often than were those with a short ambiguous phrase. Reading times were shorter for sentences with a long ambiguous phrase. The latter finding reflects Ss' tendency to read more quickly as they proceed through a sentence. (French abstract) (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
Article
Five experiments used ERPs and eye tracking to determine the interplay of word-level and discourse-level information during sentence processing. Subjects read sentences that were locally congruent but whose congruence with discourse context was manipulated. Furthermore, critical words in the local sentence were preceded by a prime word that was associated or not. Violations of discourse congruence had early and lingering effects on ERP and eye-tracking measures. This indicates that discourse representations have a rapid effect on lexical semantic processing even in locally congruous texts. In contrast, effects of association were more malleable: Very early effects of associative priming were only robust when the discourse context was absent or not cohesive. Together these results suggest that the global discourse model quickly influences lexical processing in sentences, and that spreading activation from associative priming does not contribute to natural reading in discourse contexts.
Article
This paper presents a model of reading that accounts for the oral interpretation of an ambiguous word, the time it takes to derive and integrate the interpretation, and the time it takes to detect a subsequent inconsistency. The model's predictions are compared to the sequence and duration of the readers' eye fixations on “garden path” passages such as: Cinderella was sad because she couldn't go to the dance that night. There were big tears in her brown dress. The model predicts that the interpretation of an ambiguous word (such as tears) depends on the contextual priming and the interpretation's relative frequency. The duration of the eye fixations on a disambiguating word (such as dress) depends on how consistent it is with the reader's prior interpretation of the text. The eye fixations and question-answering data also indicate different ways of recovering from the initial misinterpretation.
Article
Two experiments examining the influence of a story's structure on the comprehension of its sentences are presented. It was expected that sentences at high levels in a story would take longer to encode than those at low levels, either because cues to the sentences' roles exist within the story or because of differential difficulty of integrating the sentences into the prior context. Moreover, the greater density of new information early in stories might result in comprehension being affected by the serial position of a sentence within a story. The reading times for the individual sentences (or clauses) of stories were measured where a particular sentence appeared at one hierarchical (and/or serial) position in one story and at a different hierarchical (and/or serial) position in another story. In both experiments high-level sentences took longer to read than low-level ones and early-occurring sentences longer than late-occurring ones. Recall data supported the structural assignment of the critical sentences. These results were discussed both in terms of the initial hypotheses and in terms of W. Kintsch and T. A. van Dijk's (Psychological Review, 1978,85, 363–394) theory of text comprehension.
Article
In traditional theories of language comprehension, syntactic and semantic processing are inextricably linked. This assumption has been challenged by the 'semantic illusion effect' found in studies using event related brain potentials. Semantically anomalous sentences did not produce the expected increase in N400 amplitude but rather one in P600 amplitude. To explain these findings, complex models have been devised in which an independent semantic processing stream can arrive at a sentence interpretation that may differ from the interpretation prescribed by the syntactic structure of the sentence. We review five such multi-stream models and argue that they do not account for the full range of relevant results because they assume that the amplitude of the N400 indexes some form of semantic integration. Based on recent evidence we argue that N400 amplitude might reflect the retrieval of lexical information from memory. On this view, the absence of an N400-effect in semantic illusion sentences can be explained in terms of priming. Furthermore, we suggest that semantic integration, which has previously been linked to the N400 component, might be reflected in the P600 instead. When combined, these functional interpretations result in a single-stream account of language processing that can explain all of the Semantic Illusion data.
Article
Using concurrent electroencephalogram and eye movement measures to track natural reading, this study shows that N400 effects reflecting predictability are dissociable from those owing to spreading activation. In comparing predicted sentence endings with related and unrelated unpredicted endings in antonym constructions ('the opposite of black is white/yellow/nice'), fixation-related potentials at the critical word revealed a predictability-based N400 effect (unpredicted vs. predicted words). By contrast, event-related potentials time locked to the last fixation before the critical word showed an N400 only for the nonrelated unpredicted condition (nice). This effect is attributed to a parafoveal mismatch between the critical word and preactivated lexical features (i.e. features of the predicted word and its associates). In addition to providing the first demonstration of a parafoveally induced N400 effect, our results support the view that the N400 is best viewed as a component family.
Article
Wrap-up effects in reading have traditionally been thought to reflect increased processing associated with intra- and inter-clause integration (Just, M. A. & Carpenter, P. A. (1980). A theory of reading: From eye fixations to comprehension. Psychological Review,87(4), 329-354; Rayner, K., Kambe, G., & Duffy, S. A. (2000). The effect of clause wrap-up on eye movements during reading. The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology,53A(4), 1061-1080; cf. Hirotani, M., Frazier, L., & Rayner, K. (2006). Punctuation and intonation effects on clause and sentence wrap-up: Evidence from eye movements. Journal of Memory and Language,54, 425-443). We report an eye-tracking experiment with a strong manipulation of integrative complexity at a critical word that was either sentence-final, ended a comma-marked clause, or was not comma-marked. Although both complexity and punctuation had reliable effects, they did not interact in any eye-movement measure. These results as well as simulations using the E-Z Reader model of eye-movement control (Reichle, E. D., Warren, T., & McConnell, K. (2009). Using E-Z Reader to model the effects of higher-level language processing on eye movements during reading. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review,16(1), 1-20) suggest that traditional accounts of clause wrap-up are incomplete.