The Role of Working Memory in Syntactic Ambiguity Resolution: A Psychometric Approach

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In 2 studies, the authors used a combination of psychometric and experimental techniques to investigate the effects of domain-general and domain-specific working memory factors on offline decisions concerning attachment of an ambiguous relative clause. Both studies used English and Dutch stimuli presented to English- and Dutch-speaking participants, respectively. In Study 1, readers with low working memory spans were less likely to use recency strategies for disambiguation than were readers with high spans. This finding is inconsistent with predictions of locality- and resource-based accounts of attachment. Psychometric analyses showed that both domain-specific (verbal) and domain-general working memory accounted for the effect. Study 2 found support for the hypothesis that segmentation strategies imposed during silent reading can account for the counterintuitive relationship. Results suggest that readers with low spans have a greater tendency to break up large segments of text because of their limited working memory, leading to high attachment of the ambiguous relative clause.

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