Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Semantic Predictability Eliminates the Transposed-Letter Effect

Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Semantic Predictability Eliminates the Transposed-Letter Effect

Article excerpt

Abstract Semantic predictability facilitates word recognition during language processing. One possible explanation for this facilitation is that highly specific predictions generated online during language processing preactivate some features of upcoming words. To explore whether, how, and when these predictions affect visual word recognition, in the two experiments reported here we investigated the influence of semantic predictability on transposed-letter priming. In order to do so, a paradigm that combines self-paced wordby- word reading with masked priming was developed. Transposed-letter priming occurred in nonconstraining contexts but not in constraining contexts, indicating that readers use context to make predictions about both letter identity and position in upcoming words, and that these predictions have an early influence on visual word recognition.

Keywords Predictability . Prediction . Transposed-letter priming . Masked priming . Reading . Visual word recognition . Lexical processing . Psycholinguistics

Words that appear in sentence contexts can sometimes be highly predictable. For example, most readers who see the partial sentence "I can't breathe because my tie is too . . ." would expect that the next word would be tight. Semantic predictability of this sort is known to have a significant influence on word recognition, speeding response times in lexical decision and naming tasks (Duffy, Henderson, & Morris, 1989; Fischler & Bloom, 1979; Hess, Foss, & Carroll, 1995; Stanovich & West, 1979). Predictability also affects eye movements during reading (Ehrlich & Rayner, 1981; Kliegl, Grabner, Rolfs, & Engbert, 2004; Morris, 1994; Rayner & Well, 1996; Zola, 1984). Rayner andWell's findings are typical of the eyetracking literature: They observed decreased fixation times for medium- and high-constraint target words as compared to low-constraint words. Additionally, they observed increased skipping of high-constraint (but not medium-constraint) target words, although fixation probability was still high (.78) for the high-constraint words. A great deal of electrophysiological evidence has also accumulated regarding the effect of semantic predictability from studies investigating eventrelated potentials (ERPs; Federmeier & Kutas, 1999; Kutas & Hillyard, 1984; van Berkum, Brown, & Hagoort, 1999). For example, Kutas and Hillyard presented participants with sentences that ended in words with varying degrees of predictability and observed that N400 responses decreased for more predictable words (i.e., words with higher cloze probability).

Clearly, semantic predictability influences response times, eye movements, and electrophysiological responses, although how this influence is exerted is a subject of some debate. There are two main ideas about how predictability might increase processing efficiency. Many researchers have suggested that the influence of predictability arises after lexical access, with predictability making it easier to semantically integrate the word into the rest of the sentence (Forster, 1989; Marslen-Wilson, 1989; Norris, 1994; Stanovich & West, 1983). Other researchers have claimed that readers (and listeners) actively predict the identity of the upcoming word, so that predictability effects occur during lexical access (Federmeier, 2007; Lau, Almeida, Hines, & Poeppel, 2009). Evidence for the second position comes primarily from the ERP literature, for instance from Federmeier and Kutas (1999), who observed smaller N400s to pines than to tulips as a completion for "They wanted to make the hotel look more like a tropical resort. So, along the driveway, they planted rows of . . . ," where palms is the expected completion. They concluded that semantic predictability facilitates word recognition by preactivating semantic features, which is why the greater semantic overlap between pines and the expected word palms led to a smaller N400 than did tulips. …

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