Is attention confined to one word at a time? The spatial distribution of parafoveal preview benefits during reading

Abstract

Eye movements were recorded while participants read declarative sentences. Each sentence contained a critical three-word sequence with a three-letter target word (n), a spatially adjacent post-target word (n+1), and a subsequent nonadjacent post-target word (n+2). The parafoveal previews of words n and n+2 were manipulated so that they were either fully visible or masked until they were fixated. The results revealed longer word n and word n+1 viewing durations when word n had been masked in the parafovea, and this occurred irrespective of whether the target was skipped or fixated. Furthermore, masking of word n diminished the usefulness of the preview of word n+2. These results indicate that the effect of a parafoveally available target preview was not strictly localized. Instead, it influenced target viewing and the viewing of the two subsequent words in the text. These results are difficult to reconcile with the assumption that attention is confined to one word at a time until that word is recognized and that attention is then shifted from the recognized word to the next.

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Correspondence to Albrecht W. Inhoff.

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This research was supported by National Institutes of Health Grant HD043405. The project was completed while the first author was on a research visit at Binghamton University with a Fulbright scholarship.

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Wang, CA., Inhoff, A.W. & Radach, R. Is attention confined to one word at a time? The spatial distribution of parafoveal preview benefits during reading. Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics 71, 1487–1494 (2009). https://doi.org/10.3758/APP.71.7.1487

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Keywords

  • Target Word
  • Critical Word
  • Lexical Processing
  • Preview Benefit
  • Parafoveal Preview