, Volume 41, Issue 1, pp 82-97

The function of regressions in reading: Backward eye movements allow rereading

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Abstract

Standard text reading involves frequent eye movements that go against normal reading order. The function of these “regressions” is still largely unknown. The most obvious explanation is that regressions allow for the rereading of previously fixated words. Alternatively, physically returning the eyes to a word’s location could cue the reader’s memory for that word, effectively aiding the comprehension process via location priming (the “deictic pointer hypothesis”). In Experiment 1, regression frequency was reduced when readers knew that information was no longer available for rereading. In Experiment 2, readers listened to auditorily presented text while moving their eyes across visual placeholders on the screen. Here, rereading was impossible, but deictic pointers remained available, yet the readers did not make targeted regressions in this experiment. In Experiment 3, target words in normal sentences were changed after reading. Where the eyes later regressed to these words, participants generally remained unaware of the change, and their answers to comprehension questions indicated that the new meaning of the changed word was what determined their sentence representations. These results suggest that readers use regressions to reread words and not to cue their memory for previously read words.