Center Papers

Priming Prepositional Phrase Attachment: Evidence From Eye-tracking And Event-related Potentials

Boudewyn, M.A., Zirnstein, M., Swaab, T.Y., & Traxler, M.J. (2014). Priming prepositional phrase attachment: Evidence from eye-tracking and ERPs. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology.

Three syntactic-priming experiments investigated the effect of structurally similar or dissimilar prime sentences on the processing of target sentences, using eye tracking (Experiment 1) and event-related potentials (ERPs) (Experiments 2 and 3) All three experiments tested readers’ response to sentences containing a temporary syntactic ambiguity. The ambiguity occurred because a prepositional phrase modifier (PP-modifier) could attach either to a preceding verb or to a preceding noun. Previous exper- iments have established that (a) noun-modifying expressions are harder to process than verb-modifying expressions (when test sentences are presented in isolation); and (b) for other kinds of sentences, pro- cessing a structurally similar prime sentence can facilitate processing a target sentence. The experiments reported here were designed to determine whether a structurally similar prime could facilitate processing of noun-attached modifiers and whether such facilitation reflected syntactic-structure-building or semantic processes. These findings have implications for accounts of structural priming during online comprehension and for accounts of syntactic representation and processing in comprehension.