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Spoken language and the decision to move the eyes: To what extent are language-mediated eye movements automatic?

Mishra, R. K., Olivers, C. N. L., & Huettig, F. (2013). Spoken language and the decision to move the eyes: To what extent are language-mediated eye movements automatic? In V. S. C. Pammi, & N. Srinivasan (Eds.), Progress in Brain Research: Decision making: Neural and behavioural approaches (pp. 135-149). New York: Elsevier.
Recent eye-tracking research has revealed that spoken language can guide eye gaze very rapidly (and closely time-locked to the unfolding speech) toward referents in the visual world. We discuss whether, and to what extent, such language-mediated eye movements are automatic rather than subject to conscious and controlled decision-making. We consider whether language-mediated eye movements adhere to four main criteria of automatic behavior, namely, whether they are fast and efficient, unintentional, unconscious, and overlearned (i.e., arrived at through extensive practice). Current evidence indicates that language-driven oculomotor behavior is fast but not necessarily always efficient. It seems largely unintentional though there is also some evidence that participants can actively use the information in working memory to avoid distraction in search. Language-mediated eye movements appear to be for the most part unconscious and have all the hallmarks of an overlearned behavior. These data are suggestive of automatic mechanisms linking language to potentially referred-to visual objects, but more comprehensive and rigorous testing of this hypothesis is needed.
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The Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics is an institute of the German Max Planck Society. Our mission is to undertake basic research into the psychological,social and biological foundations of language. The goal is to understand how our minds and brains process language, how language interacts with other aspects of mind, and how we can learn languages of quite different types.

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