Kyla McConnell


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  • McConnell, K. (2023). Individual Differences in Holistic and Compositional Language Processing. Journal of Cognition, 6. doi:10.5334/joc.283.


    Individual differences in cognitive abilities are ubiquitous across the spectrum of proficient language users. Although speakers differ with regard to their memory capacity, ability for inhibiting distraction, and ability to shift between different processing levels, comprehension is generally successful. However, this does not mean it is identical across individuals; listeners and readers may rely on different processing strategies to exploit distributional information in the service of efficient understanding. In the following psycholinguistic reading experiment, we investigate potential sources of individual differences in the processing of co-occurring words. Participants read modifier-noun bigrams like absolute silence in a self-paced reading task. Backward transition probability (BTP) between the two lexemes was used to quantify the prominence of the bigram as a whole in comparison to the frequency of its parts. Of five individual difference measures (processing speed, verbal working memory, cognitive inhibition, global-local scope shifting, and personality), two proved to be significantly associated with the effect of BTP on reading times. Participants who could inhibit a distracting global environment in order to more efficiently retrieve a single part and those that preferred the local level in the shifting task showed greater effects of the co-occurrence probability of the parts. We conclude that some participants are more likely to retrieve bigrams via their parts and their co-occurrence statistics whereas others more readily retrieve the two words together as a single chunked unit.
  • McConnell, K., & Blumenthal-Dramé, A. (2022). Effects of task and corpus-derived association scores on the online processing of collocations. Corpus Linguistics and Linguistic Theory, 18, 33-76. doi:10.1515/cllt-2018-0030.


    In the following self-paced reading study, we assess the cognitive realism of six widely used corpus-derived measures of association strength between words (collocated modifier–noun combinations like vast majority): MI, MI3, Dice coefficient, T-score, Z-score, and log-likelihood. The ability of these collocation metrics to predict reading times is tested against predictors of lexical processing cost that are widely established in the psycholinguistic and usage-based literature, respectively: forward/backward transition probability and bigram frequency. In addition, the experiment includes the treatment variable of task: it is split into two blocks which only differ in the format of interleaved comprehension questions (multiple choice vs. typed free response). Results show that the traditional corpus-linguistic metrics are outperformed by both backward transition probability and bigram frequency. Moreover, the multiple-choice condition elicits faster overall reading times than the typed condition, and the two winning metrics show stronger facilitation on the critical word (i.e. the noun in the bigrams) in the multiple-choice condition. In the typed condition, we find an effect that is weaker and, in the case of bigram frequency, longer lasting, continuing into the first spillover word. We argue that insufficient attention to task effects might have obscured the cognitive correlates of association scores in earlier research.
  • McConnell, K., & Blumenthal-Dramé, A. (2021). Usage-Based Individual Differences in the Probabilistic Processing of Multi-Word Sequences. Frontiers in Communication, 6: 703351. doi:10.3389/fcomm.2021.703351.


    While it is widely acknowledged that both predictive expectations and retrodictive
    integration influence language processing, the individual differences that affect these
    two processes and the best metrics for observing them have yet to be fully described.
    The present study aims to contribute to the debate by investigating the extent to which
    experienced-based variables modulate the processing of word pairs (bigrams).
    Specifically, we investigate how age and reading experience correlate with lexical
    anticipation and integration, and how this effect can be captured by the metrics of
    forward and backward transition probability (TP). Participants read more and less
    strongly associated bigrams, paired to control for known lexical covariates such as
    bigram frequency and meaning (i.e., absolute control, total control, absolute silence,
    total silence) in a self-paced reading (SPR) task. They additionally completed
    assessments of exposure to print text (Author Recognition Test, Shipley vocabulary
    assessment, Words that Go Together task) and provided their age. Results show that
    both older age and lesser reading experience individually correlate with stronger TP
    effects. Moreover, TP effects differ across the spillover region (the two words following
    the noun in the bigram)

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