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When eye fixation might not reflect online ambiguity resolution in the visual-world paradigm: structural priming following multiple primes in Portuguese

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Abstract

Research on structural priming in the visual-world paradigm (VWP) has examined how visual referents are looked at when participants are repeatedly exposed to sentences with the same or a different syntactic structure. A core finding is that participants look more at a visual referent when it is consistent with the primed interpretation. In this study, we examine the hypothesis that by using multiple primes, we should induce a stronger structural preference, and hence, observe more looks to the visual referent that is consistent with the interpretation of the primed structure. In three VWP eye-tracking experiments, Portuguese speakers were asked to read aloud one, two or three relative clause (RC) sentences that were morphologically disambiguated towards a high- or low- attachment reading. Then, they were presented with a visual display and listened to an ambiguous RC. Listeners fixated more the referent consistent with the primed attachment after one prime, but unexpectedly looked more at the referent consistent with the non-primed attachment following two and three primes. In a fourth experiment, we assessed the gaze pattern during unambiguous RC processing, and found a consistent preference for looking at the non-antecedent referent. Our experiments show that exposure to multiple primes can lead to fewer looks to the primed antecedent. Moreover, people do not seem to always look at the antecedent consistent with the attachment, suggesting that the link between attending to visual information and understanding spoken information may not be straightforward.

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Notes

  1. Thothathiri and Snedeker carried out two further experiments in which they found priming effects. However, both experiments involved a between-participants design that may have induced deliberate strategies, because participants could have realized that the prime and target sentences always had the same structure and adjusted their expectations accordingly, as Thothathiri and Snedeker noted.

  2. For experiments 1 and 2, our written informed consent, for an oversight, did not contain an age field for participants to complete, and thus we can only provide age information. We note, however, that in all experiments the recruited participants were undergraduate students from the University of Lisbon, whose mean age is approximately 20.

  3. Note that, while in the current example sentence there is a ‘strong’ pragmatic disambiguation, many of our target sentences provided ‘weaker’ disambiguating information. For example, for the HA item The wife of the carpenter who will make the soup is sad, an LA interpretation (i.e., the carpenter making the soup) is not ‘pragmatically’ impossible (refer to Supplemental Material 1 for a full list of targets).

  4. We added 0.5 both at the nominator and denominator of the ratio to avoid indeterminate forms.

  5. Having relatively many observations, the t-distribution converges to the z-distribution, and so a normal approximation is used: coefs$p = format.pval(2*(1-pnorm(abs(coefs$t.value))), digits = 2, eps = 0.0001), in R code.

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Funding

This work was supported by Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia Grants SFRH/BD/72307/2010 awarded to EF and SFRH/BDP/88374/2012 awarded to MC. HB was supported by a British Academy/Leverhulme Senior Research Fellowship.

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Correspondence to Eunice G. Fernandes.

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Fernandes, E.G., Coco, M.I. & Branigan, H.P. When eye fixation might not reflect online ambiguity resolution in the visual-world paradigm: structural priming following multiple primes in Portuguese. J Cult Cogn Sci 3 (Suppl 1), 65–87 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s41809-019-00021-9

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