Anticipating a future versus integrating a recent event? Evidence from eye-tracking.Acta Psychol (Amst) 2019; 200:102916AP
When comprehending a spoken sentence that refers to a visually-presented event, comprehenders both integrate their current interpretation of language with the recent event and develop expectations about future event possibilities. Tense cues can disambiguate this linking, but temporary ambiguity in these cues may lead comprehenders to also rely on further, experience-based (e.g., frequency or an actor's gaze) cues. How comprehenders reconcile these different cues in real time is an open issue. Extant results suggest that comprehenders preferentially relate their unfolding interpretation to a recent event by inspecting its target object. We investigated to what extent this recent-event preference could be overridden by short-term experiential and situation-specific cues. In Experiments 1-2 participants saw substantially more future than recent events and listened to more sentences about future-events (75% in Experiment 1 and 88% in Experiment 2). Experiment 3 cued future target objects and event possibilities via an actor's gaze. The event frequency increase yielded a reduction in the recent event inspection preference early during sentence processing in Experiments 1-2 compared with Experiment 3 (where event frequency and utterance tense were balanced) but did not eliminate the overall recent-event preference. Actor gaze also modulated the recent-event preference, and jointly with future tense led to its reversal in Experiment 3. However, our results showed that people overall preferred to focus on recent (vs. future) events in their interpretation, suggesting that while two cues (actor gaze and short-term event frequency) can partially override the recent-event preference, the latter still plays a key role in shaping participants' interpretation.