Decomposing predictability: Semantic feature overlap between words and the dynamics of reading for meaning

by   Markus J. Hofmann, et al.

The present study uses a computational approach to examine the role of semantic constraints in normal reading. This methodology avoids confounds inherent in conventional measures of predictability, allowing for theoretically deeper accounts of semantic processing. We start from a definition of associations between words based on the significant log likelihood that two words co-occur frequently together in the sentences of a large text corpus. Direct associations between stimulus words were controlled, and semantic feature overlap between prime and target words was manipulated by their common associates. The stimuli consisted of sentences of the form pronoun, verb, article, adjective and noun, followed by a series of closed class words, e. g. "She rides the grey elephant on one of her many exploratory voyages". The results showed that verb-noun overlap reduces single and first fixation durations of the target noun and adjective-noun overlap reduces go-past durations. A dynamic spreading of activation account suggests that associates of the prime words take some time to become activated: The verb can act on the target noun's early eye-movement measures presented three words later, while the adjective is presented immediately prior to the target, which induces sentence re-examination after a difficult adjective-noun semantic integration.


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