An eye-tracking investigation into readers’ sensitivity to actual versus expected utility in the comprehension of conditionals.

Matthew Haigh, Heather Ferguson, Andrew Stewart

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)
3 Downloads (Pure)

Abstract

The successful comprehension of a utility conditional (i.e., an “if p, then q” statement where p and/or q is valued by one or more agents) requires the construction of a mental representation of the situation described by that conditional and integration of this representation with prior context. In an eye-tracking experiment, we examined the time course of integrating conditional utility information into the broader discourse model. Specifically, the experiment determined whether readers were sensitive, during rapid heuristic processing, to the congruency between the utility of the consequent clause of a conditional (positive or negative) and a reader's subjective expectations based on prior context. On a number of eye-tracking measures we found that readers were sensitive to conditional utility—conditionals for which the consequent utility mismatched the utility that would be anticipated on the basis of prior context resulted in processing disruption. Crucially, this sensitivity emerged on measures that are accepted to indicate early processing within the language comprehension system and suggests that the evaluation of a conditional's utility informs the early stages of conditional processing.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)166-185
JournalThe Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology
Volume67
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2014

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