Event-Based Plausibility Immediately Influences On-Line Language Comprehension
Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition
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In some theories of sentence comprehension, linguistically relevant lexical knowledge, such as selectional restrictions, is privileged in terms of the time-course of its access and influence. We examined whether event knowledge computed by combining multiple concepts can rapidly influence language understanding even in the absence of selectional restriction violations. Specifically, we investigated whether instruments can combine with actions to influence comprehension of ensuing patients of (as in Rayner, Warren, Juhuasz, & Liversedge, 2004; Warren & McConnell, 2007). Instrument-verb-patient triplets were created in a norming study designed to tap directly into event knowledge. In self-paced reading (Experiment 1), participants were faster to read patient nouns, such as hair, when they were typical of the instrument-action pair (Donna used the shampoo to wash vs. the hose to wash). Experiment 2 showed that these results were not due to direct instrument-patient relations. Experiment 3 replicated Experiment 1 using eyetracking, with effects of event typicality observed in first fixation and gaze durations on the patient noun. This research demonstrates that conceptual event-based expectations are computed and used rapidly and dynamically during on-line language comprehension. We discuss relationships among plausibility and predictability, as well as their implications. We conclude that selectional restrictions may be best considered as event-based conceptual knowledge rather than lexical-grammatical knowledge.