Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

What Can We Learn about Visual Attention to Multiple Words from the Word-Word Interference Task?

Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

What Can We Learn about Visual Attention to Multiple Words from the Word-Word Interference Task?

Article excerpt

Published online: 23 July 2014

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2014

Abstract In this work, we develop an empirically driven model of visual attention to multiple words using the word-word interference (WWI) task. In this task, two words are simultaneously presented visually: a to-be-ignored distractor word at fixation, and a to-be-read-aloud target word above or below the distractor word. Experiment 1 showed that low-frequency distractor words interfere more than high-frequency distractor words. Experiment 2 showed that distractor frequency (high vs. low) and target frequency (high vs. low) exert additive effects. Experiment 3 showed that the effect of the case status of the target (same vs. AlTeRnAtEd) interacts with the type of distractor (word vs. string of # marks). Experiment 4 showed that targets are responded to faster in the presence of semantically related distractors than in presence of unrelated distractors. Our model of visual attention to multiple words borrows two principles governing processing dynamics from the dual-route cascaded model of reading: cascaded interactive activation and lateral inhibition. At the core of the model are three mechanisms aimed at dealing with the distinctive feature of the WWI task, which is that two words are presented simultaneously. These mechanisms are identification, tokenization, and deactivation.

Keywords Word production . VisualWord Recognition . Reading . Lexical selection . Visual attention . Lexical processing . Reading Aloud

In this article, we develop a cognitive model concerned with the vicissitudes of the target and the distractor in the word- word interference (hereafter, WWI) task (La Heij, Happel, & Mulder, 1990). In the form of the WWI task with which we will be concerned, participants are first presented with a fixation point (e.g., +) that appears at the center of the display. At its offset, two words are simultaneously presented, a distractor word and a target word. The distractor word always appears at the center of the display-that is, in the position cued by the fixation point. The target word appears either above (on 50% of trials) or below the distractor. Thus, the target is defined as a function of the position (either above or below) that it occupies with respect to the position of the distractor, which always appears centrally. Participants are instructed to read the target aloud and to ignore the distractor.

In theWWI task, the distractor and the target are defined in terms of the positions that they occupy-that is, at fixation or above/below fixation. Thus, the WWI offers the opportunity to devise a mechanism for binding the lexical/semantic representations of the stimuli with the corresponding visual, precategorical features-that is, to explain how a link is constructed between the identities of the items and the positions that those items occupy.

In Experiment 1 of La Heij et al. (1990), the distractors could be semantically related to the target or unrelated; a member of the response set (i.e., the distractor was a possible target) or not (i.e., the distractor was never presented as a target); or irrelevant (i.e., the distractor was selected from a semantic category none of the stimuli of the previous conditions were selected from). Analyses showed that neither of these two manipulated variables exerted a significant influence on the time to read the target aloud, a result that has led to the widespread belief that when two words are simultaneously presented and only the word away from the fixation position has to be read aloud, the distractor word (presented at fixation) has no influence on the processing of the target word. La Heij et al. also included a control condition in which the fixated distractor was composed of a row of five Xs. Interestingly, reaction times (RTs) in the control condition (541 ms) were significantly faster than RTs in the word-distractor conditions (580 ms, averaged across the five conditions). …

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