The Link Between Fixation Location and Attention During Reading
: Its Extent and Nature

  • Laura Jane Wakeford

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    This thesis explores the relationship between fixation location and the locus of attention during reading. Early theories of eye movement control during reading suggested that a very tight coupling exists between the two (Just & Carpenter, 1980); however, it has since been shown that dissociations do exist. Whether these dissociations necessarily implicate parallel lexical processing, or whether they can be accommodated for within a serial-sequential framework is explored in a series of experiments. Experiment 1 tested whether parallel lexical processing is, at the very least, psychologically plausible. Two horizontally aligned letter strings were presented simultaneously on a screen, the task being to decide whether they were physically identical or not. Even when presentation duration should have been short enough to prohibit the strictly serial processing of each word in turn, the results show clear lexical effects: high frequency words were responded to faster and with fewer errors than low frequency words. Effects of lexicality and orthography were also found. These results suggest that the two words had been processed at a lexical level in an overlapping fashion. Experiments 2 and 3 investigated the nature and range of word n+2 preview effects. In Experiment 2, word n+1 was either a determiner or 3-letter alternative higher frequency word; in Experiment 3, word n+1 was either a 4- or a 6-letter high frequency word. A gaze contingent display change technique was employed, where prior to passing an invisible boundary located immediately after word n, one, the other, neither or both of words n+1 and n+2 received a nonword preview. In addition to showing orthographic parafoveal-on-foveal effects stemming from word n+1, there was also evidence that word n+2 preview influenced targeting decisions on words n and n+1. Word n+2 preview effects are also found on word n+2 and in the spillover region. These effects were most wide ranging when word n+1 length was an average of 5- compared to 3-letters. Higher-level plausibility preview effects were explored in Experiments 4-6, again using a gaze contingent display change technique. In Experiment 4 word n+1 received either an identical preview, a different but plausible one, or an anomalous, or nonword preview. Critically, an effect of plausibility arose on word n+1, with anomalous previews receiving longer inspection times than alternative plausible previews. Experiments 5 and 6 investigated the range over which these effects might occur, testing for a plausibility preview effect on word n+2. Results showed numerical, but not statistical evidence for a plausibility-related preview effect on word n+2. There were, however, clear orthographic word n+2 preview effects. Finally, Experiment 7 experimentally tested the immediate oculomotor response to a mislocated fixation, using a text shift paradigm to simulate saccadic error and measuring the effect on lexical processing. Critically, this experiment showed that a quick error correction strategy appears to be engaged following a simulated saccadic undershoot, rather than a stay and process response. This suggests that a mislocated fixation account coupled with a stay and process response is unlikely to provide a viable explanation for lexical parafoveal-on-foveal effects. Overall, it is suggested that current instantiations of both serial (e.g., Reichle, Warren & McConnell, 2009) and parallel (e.g., Schad & Engbert, 2012) models of eye movement control during reading appear to fail to capture major aspects of these patterns of results. The results do, however, appear to fit most parsimoniously with a perspective on eye movement control that allows for multiple words to be processed in an overlapping fashion.
    Date of Award2015
    Original languageEnglish
    SponsorsEconomic and Social Research Council, UK
    SupervisorWayne Murray (Supervisor)


    • Eye movements
    • Reading
    • Lexical processing
    • Boundary paradigm
    • Preview benefit
    • Parafoveal-on-foveal effects
    • Mislocated fixations
    • Attention

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