Immediate and Delayed Effects of Word Frequency and Word Length on Eye Movements in Reading: A Reversed Delayed Effect of Word Length

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Abstract

Three experiments examined the effects in sentence reading of varying the frequency and length of an adjective on (a) fixations on the adjective and (b) fixations on the following noun. The gaze duration on the adjective was longer for low frequency than for high frequency adjectives and longer for long adjectives than for short adjectives. This contrasted with the spillover effects: Gaze durations on the noun were longer when adjectives were low frequency but were actually shorter when the adjectives were long. The latter effect, which seems anomalous, can be explained by three mechanisms: (a) Fixations on the noun are less optimal after short adjectives because of less optimal targeting; (b) shorter adjectives are more difficult to process because they have more neighbors; and (c) prior fixations before skips are less advantageous places to extract parafoveal information. The viability of these hypotheses as explanations of this reverse length effect on the noun was examined in simulations using an updated version of the E-Z Reader model (A. Pollatsek, K. Reichle, & E. D. Rayner, 2006c; E. D. Reichle, A. Pollatsek, D. L. Fisher, & K. Rayner, 1998).

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