Memory & Cognition

, Volume 14, Issue 3, pp 191-201

First online:

Lexical complexity and fixation times in reading: Effects of word frequency, verb complexity, and lexical ambiguity

  • Keith RaynerAffiliated withPsychology Department, University of Massachusetts
  • , Susan A. DuffyAffiliated withPsychology Department, University of Massachusetts


Two experiments investigated whether lexical complexity increases a word’s processing time. Subjects read sentences, each containing a target word, while their eye movements were monitored. In experiment 1, mean fixation time on infrequent words was longer than on their more frequent controls, as was the first fixation after the Infrequent Target. Fixation Times on Causative, factive, and negative verbs and ambiguous nouns were no longer than on their controls. Further analyses on the ambiguous nouns, however, suggested that the likelihood of their various meanings affected fixation time. This factor was investigated in experiment 2. subjects spent a longer time fixating ambiguous words with two equally likely meanings than fixating ambiguous words with one highly likely meaning. The results suggest that verb complexity does not affect lexical access time, and that word frequency And the presence of two highly likely meanings may affect lexical access and/or postaccess integration.