The complexity of the visual environment modulates language-mediated eye gaze

Hintz, F., & Huettig, F. (2015). The complexity of the visual environment modulates language-mediated eye gaze. In R. Mishra, N. Srinivasan, & F. Huettig (Eds.), Attention and Vision in Language Processing (pp. 39-55). Berlin: Springer. doi:10.1007/978-81-322-2443-3_3.
Three eye-tracking experiments investigated the impact of the complexity of the visual environment on the likelihood of word-object mapping taking place at phonological, semantic and visual levels of representation during language-mediated visual search. Dutch participants heard spoken target words while looking at four objects embedded in displays of different complexity and indicated the presence or absence of the target object. During filler trials the target objects were present, but during experimental trials they were absent and the display contained various competitor objects. For example, given the target word “beaker”, the display contained a phonological (a beaver, bever), a shape (a bobbin, klos), a semantic (a fork, vork) competitor, and an unrelated distractor (an umbrella, paraplu). When objects were presented in simple four-object displays (Experiment 2), there were clear attentional biases to all three types of competitors replicating earlier research (Huettig and McQueen, 2007). When the objects were embedded in complex scenes including four human-like characters or four meaningless visual shapes (Experiments 1, 3), there were biases in looks to visual and semantic but not to phonological competitors. In both experiments, however, we observed evidence for inhibition in looks to phonological competitors, which suggests that the phonological forms of the objects nevertheless had been retrieved. These findings suggest that phonological word-object mapping is contingent upon the nature of the visual environment and add to a growing body of evidence that the nature of our visual surroundings induces particular modes of processing during language-mediated visual search.
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