Preferential inspection of recent real-world events over future events: evidence from eye tracking during spoken sentence comprehension

Knoeferle P, Carminati MN, Abashidze D, Essig K (2011)
Frontiers in Psychology 2(376): 1-12.

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Abstract
Eye-tracking findings suggest people prefer to ground their spoken language comprehen- sion by focusing on recently seen events more than anticipating future events: When the verb in NP1-VERB-ADV-NP2 sentences was referentially ambiguous between a recently depicted and an equally plausible future clipart action, listeners fixated the target of the recent action more often at the verb than the object that hadn’t yet been acted upon. We examined whether this inspection preference generalizes to real-world events, and whether it is (vs. isn’t) modulated by how often people see recent and future events acted out. In a first eye-tracking study, the experimenter performed an action (e.g., sugaring pancakes), and then a spoken sentence either referred to that action or to an equally plau- sible future action (e.g., sugaring strawberries). At the verb, people more often inspected the pancakes (the recent target) than the strawberries (the future target), thus replicat- ing the recent-event preference with these real-world actions. Adverb tense, indicating a future versus past event, had no effect on participants’ visual attention. In a second study we increased the frequency of future actions such that participants saw 50/50 future and recent actions. During the verb people mostly inspected the recent action target, but subse- quently they began to rely on tense, and anticipated the future target more often for future than past tense adverbs. A corpus study showed that the verbs and adverbs indicating past versus future actions were equally frequent, suggesting long-term frequency biases did not cause the recent-event preference. Thus, (a) recent real-world actions can rapidly influence comprehension (as indexed by eye gaze to objects), and (b) people prefer to first inspect a recent action target (vs. an object that will soon be acted upon), even when past and future actions occur with equal frequency. A simple frequency-of-experience account cannot accommodate these findings.
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Knoeferle P, Carminati MN, Abashidze D, Essig K. Preferential inspection of recent real-world events over future events: evidence from eye tracking during spoken sentence comprehension. Frontiers in Psychology. 2011;2(376):1-12.
Knoeferle, P., Carminati, M. N., Abashidze, D., & Essig, K. (2011). Preferential inspection of recent real-world events over future events: evidence from eye tracking during spoken sentence comprehension. Frontiers in Psychology, 2(376), 1-12.
Knoeferle, P., Carminati, M. N., Abashidze, D., and Essig, K. (2011). Preferential inspection of recent real-world events over future events: evidence from eye tracking during spoken sentence comprehension. Frontiers in Psychology 2, 1-12.
Knoeferle, P., et al., 2011. Preferential inspection of recent real-world events over future events: evidence from eye tracking during spoken sentence comprehension. Frontiers in Psychology, 2(376), p 1-12.
P. Knoeferle, et al., “Preferential inspection of recent real-world events over future events: evidence from eye tracking during spoken sentence comprehension”, Frontiers in Psychology, vol. 2, 2011, pp. 1-12.
Knoeferle, P., Carminati, M.N., Abashidze, D., Essig, K.: Preferential inspection of recent real-world events over future events: evidence from eye tracking during spoken sentence comprehension. Frontiers in Psychology. 2, 1-12 (2011).
Knoeferle, Pia, Carminati, Maria Nella, Abashidze, Dato, and Essig, Kai. “Preferential inspection of recent real-world events over future events: evidence from eye tracking during spoken sentence comprehension”. Frontiers in Psychology 2.376 (2011): 1-12.
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