Inspection times for words in syntactically ambiguous sentences under three presentation conditions

Alan Kennedy, Wayne S. Murray

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

60 Citations (Scopus)


In 2 experiments with 52 college students, ambiguous and unambiguous sentences of varying length were presented in 3 conditions: (1) central--each word of the sentence appearing in the same central location; (2) sequential--single words appearing in their appropriate spatial locations; and (3) cumulative--a condition identical to sequential, except that previously presented text remained in view. In all cases, interresponse times (IRTs [i.e., inspection times per word]) were recorded during reading. Results show that patterns of word-by-word reading times varied for the same materials depending on their mode of presentation, confirming previous findings by M. A. Just et al (see record 1982-29564-001). In the cumulative mode, Ss were sensitive to syntactic ambiguity. This was not true in the central presentation. The spatial location mode produced patterns of IRTs that resembled those in the central mode, apart from the tendency to spend longer on the final word. Data suggest that appropriate syntactic processing may critically depend on the reader's ability to reinspect portions of the text. This conclusion was further supported by direct observation of the reader's eye movement as the task was performed. The experimental items and questions are appended. (22 ref) (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2006 APA, all rights reserved).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)833-849
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Dec 1984


  • syntactic ambiguity of sentences of varying length, inspection times for words, college students

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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