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Reading ability influences anticipatory eye movements
Formal literacy seems to be related to anticipatory language-mediated eye movements, MPI researcher Falk Huettig and his Indian colleagues at the University of Allahabad have recently discovered. Their paper 'Spoken language-mediated anticipatory eye-movements are modulated by reading ability - Evidence from Indian low and high literates' was published on March 14 in the Journal of Eye Movement Research.
March 28, 2012Prediction seems to be a fundamental aspect of human cognition. People predict the outcome of other people's actions: mere knowledge of upcoming events activates our own motor system. "There is no doubt that we engage in predictive processing in many situations," says Falk Huettig, researcher at MPI's Individual Differences in Language Processing department. "But it remains an open question how central prediction is to the workings of the human mind. Are we prediction machines, as is sometimes claimed, or is prediction merely helpful in many situations and related to levels of expertise at the task at hand?"
Highly educated studentsEffects of anticipatory processing have also been demonstrated in language research, using visual world eye-tracking and event-related brain potentials (ERPs), but artificial task demands may have contributed to these effects. Results may also have been biased because in most prediction experiments only university students participated. "This is rather critical, as studies in other domains of cognitive psychology have shown that predictive processing is a characteristic of high levels of expertise."
Low levels of literacyTo make up for these shortcomings, Huettig and his Indian colleagues Ramesh Mishra, Niharika Singh, and Aparna Pandey from the University of Allahabad investigated anticipatory language processing in people with low literacy skills. "Our subjects had only two years of formal education and they had very rudimentary reading skills -- in a reading test they could only read 6 out of 96 words. But their low levels of literacy were due to poverty and other socio-economic factors, rather than any cognitive impairments or difficulties with reading acquisition," he emphasizes.
In their study, Indian both low literates and a control group of high literates listened to simple spoken sentences containing a target word (e.g., "door"), while simultaneously looking at a visual display of four objects (a target, i.e. the door, and three distractors). The spoken sentences were constructed in such a way that participants could use semantic, associative, and syntactic information from adjectives and particles (preceding the critical noun) to anticipate the visual target objects.
Practice enhances predictions
High literates started to shift their eye gaze to the target objects well before the target word began. In the low literacy group this shift of eye gaze occurred only when the target noun (i.e. "door") was heard, more than a second later. These results suggest that the steady practice of reading and writing enhances individuals' abilities to generate lexical predictions, abilities that help literates to exploit contextually-relevant predictive information when anticipating which object an interlocutor will refer to next in one's visual environment.
"These findings highlight the need to investigate the degree, and the potential mechanisms of anticipatory language processing in non-student populations." His future research will therefore focus on two-year-olds, older adults and illiterate adults in India.
Link to the publication.