Accounting for regressive eye-movements in models of sentence processing: A reappraisal of the Selective Reanalysis hypothesis

Don C. Mitchell, Xingjia Shen, Matthew James Green, Timothy L. Hodgson

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62 Citations (Scopus)


When people read temporarily ambiguous sentences, there is often an increased prevalence of regressive eye-movements launched from the word that resolves the ambiguity. Traditionally, such regressions have been interpreted at least in part as reflecting readers’ efforts to re-read and reconfigure earlier material, as exemplified by the Selective Reanalysis hypothesis [Frazier, L., & Rayner, K. (1982). Making and correcting errors during sentence comprehension: Eye movements in the analysis of structurally ambiguous sentences. Cognitive Psychology, 14, 178–210]. Within such frameworks it is assumed that the selection of saccadic landing-sites is linguistically supervised. As an alternative to this proposal, we consider the possibility (dubbed the Time Out hypothesis) that regression control is partly decoupled from linguistic operations and that landing-sites are instead selected on the basis of low-level spatial properties such as their proximity to the point from which the regressive saccade was launched. Two eye-tracking experiments were conducted to compare the explanatory potential of these two accounts. Experiment 1 manipulated the formatting of linguistically identical sentences and showed, contrary to purely linguistic supervision, that the landing site of the first regression from a critical word was reliably influenced by the physical layout of the text. Experiment 2 used a fixed physical format but manipulated the position in the display at which reanalysis-relevant material was located. Here the results showed a highly reliable linguistic influence on the overall distribution of regression landing sites (though with few effects being apparent on the very first regression). These results are interpreted as reflecting mutually exclusive forms of regression control with fixation sequences being influenced both by spatially constrained, partially decoupled supervision systems as well as by some kind of linguistic guidance. The findings are discussed in relation to existing computational models of eye-movements in reading.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)266-293
Number of pages38
JournalJournal of Memory and Language
Issue number3
Early online date30 Jul 2008
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2008


  • syntactic ambiguity resolution
  • human parsing
  • regressions
  • eye-movements
  • selective reanalysis
  • computational models
  • garden-path sentences
  • Z-reader model
  • language comprehension
  • modifier attachment
  • connectionist model
  • saccade generation
  • lexical ambiguity
  • discourse context
  • word recognition


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