Out of the Corner of My Eye: Foveal Semantic Load Modulates Parafoveal Processing in Reading

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Abstract

In 2 experiments, we examined the impact of foveal semantic expectancy and congruity on parafoveal word processing during reading. Experiment 1 utilized an eye-tracking gaze-contingent display change paradigm, and Experiment 2 measured event-related brain potentials (ERPs) in a modified flanker rapid serial visual presentation (RSVP) paradigm. Eye-tracking and ERP data converged to reveal graded effects of foveal load on parafoveal processing. In Experiment 1, when word n was highly expected, and thus foveal load was low, there was a large parafoveal preview benefit to word n + 1. When word n was unexpected but still plausible, preview benefits to n + 1 were reduced in magnitude, and when word n was semantically incongruent, the preview benefit to n + 1 was unreliable in early pass measures. In Experiment 2, ERPs indicated that when word n was expected, and thus foveal load was low, readers successfully discriminated between valid and orthographically invalid previews during parafoveal perception. However, when word n was unexpected, parafoveal processing of n + 1 was reduced, and it was eliminated when word n was semantically incongruent. Taken together, these findings suggest that sentential context modulates the allocation of attention in the parafovea, such that covert allocation of attention to parafoveal processing is disrupted when foveal words are inconsistent with expectations based on various contextual constraints.

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