Journal of Psycholinguistic Research

, Volume 19, Issue 4, pp 245–264 | Cite as

The use of heuristic strategies in the interpretation of pronouns

  • Rosalind A. Crawley
  • Rosemary J. Stevenson
  • David Kleinman


The aim of the two experiments reported here was to distinguish between two heuristic strategies that have been proposed to account for the assignment of pronouns: the subject assignment strategy and the parallel function strategy. According to the subject assignment strategy, a pronoun is assigned to a preceding subject noun phrase, whereas according to the parallel function strategy, a pronoun is assigned to a previous noun phrase in the same grammatical position as the pronoun. These two strategies were tested by examining the interpretation of single object pronouns, first in a reading task and second in an assignment task. In both experiments, there was a strong preference for assigning an object pronoun to the preceding subject noun phrase, thus supporting the subject assignment strategy. However, this was only the case for pronouns that were linguistically ambiguous. When assignment was constrained by gender, there was no effect of either strategy. It is suggested that heuristic strategies are only used in the absence of other strong cues to assignment.


Cognitive Psychology Strong Preference Noun Phrase Single Object Function Strategy 
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Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1990

Authors and Affiliations

  • Rosalind A. Crawley
    • 1
  • Rosemary J. Stevenson
    • 1
  • David Kleinman
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of Durham, Science LaboratoriesDurhamEngland

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