Individual Differences in Holistic and Compositional Language Processing

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.
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