The scientific study of language comprehension has proceeded along two largely independent lines of research: experiments that examine online sentence processing using measures such as eye-tracking during reading and event-related potentials (ERPs) on the one hand, and experiments that probe readers' offline interpretation of what was read on the other. The current project aims to bridge these two areas by investigating the extent to which behavioral and neural measures of online sentence processing can be used to predict readers' offline comprehension of what was read. The project focuses in particular on temporary structural ambiguities (garden-path sentences; e.g., While Anna dressed the baby played in the crib), as previous work has shown that readers differ considerably with respect to their online processing and offline interpretation of these types of sentences. Further, the projec examines how individual differences in two key cognitive constructs-working-memory capacity and print exposure-mediate the relationship between online processing and offline comprehension. The project addresses three specific aims: (1) What are the online reading-time patterns that give rise to correct versus incorrect offline interpretations of temporarily ambiguou sentences? (2) What are the online electrophysiological signatures that give rise to correct versus incorrect interpretations of temporarily ambiguous sentences? (3) How are the relationships between online processing and offline interpretation mediated by individual differences in working-memory capacity and print exposure? The project addresses these three specific aims in two experiments that employ eye-tracking and ERPs to measure online sentence processing, as well as comprehension questions to measure offline interpretation. In addition, reading-span and spatial-span tasks will be administered to assess working-memory capacity, and the Author Recognition Test will be administered to assess print exposure. The knowledge gained from this project will contribute to theoretical models and methodological advancement in the fields of psycholinguistics and the cognitive neuroscience of language.

Public Health Relevance

The proposed project focuses on how differences in eye-movement patterns and event-related potentials during reading give rise to variation in readers' offline interpretation of what was read, as well as how these processes are mediated by individual variability in working-memory capacity and print exposure. Although it is clear that individuals vary tremendously with respect to their abilities to process and understand language, most models of language comprehension do not account for this variability. The results from this project will contribute to a more accurate understanding of how key aspects of reading and language comprehension vary across the population, which relates to public-health efforts to promote literacy and to understand changes in reading ability across the lifespan.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (NICHD)
Postdoctoral Individual National Research Service Award (F32)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1-F01A-F (20)L)
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Miller, Brett
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University of California Davis
Schools of Medicine
United States
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Lowder, Matthew W; Choi, Wonil; Ferreira, Fernanda et al. (2018) Lexical Predictability During Natural Reading: Effects of Surprisal and Entropy Reduction. Cogn Sci 42 Suppl 4:1166-1183
Lowder, Matthew W; Gordon, Peter C (2017) Print exposure modulates the effects of repetition priming during sentence reading. Psychon Bull Rev 24:1935-1942