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Neighbor frequency effects during reading: Is there a parallel with lexical ambiguity?

Timothy James Slattery, University of Massachusetts Amherst


The following four eye movement experiments examined the hypothesis that sentence context has a similar effect on words with higher frequency neighbors and lexically ambiguous words. This would be consistent with the notion that lexically ambiguous words can be thought of as extreme examples of word neighbors (word roommates). Experiment 1 presented words with higher frequency neighbors (birch, birth) in sentences that provided either a neutral context (i.e., the target word and its higher frequency neighbor could both fit equally well into the sentence) or biased context (i.e., the target word was a better fit than its higher frequency neighbor). Experiment 2 used the items from Experiment 1 with a group of elderly readers (65 years of age or older) to investigate age related differences in the neighbor frequency effect. A prior study by Rayner, Reichle, Stroud, Williams & Pollatsek (2006) concluded that elderly readers adopt a riskier reading strategy that relies heavily on partial parafoveal information. Therefore, elderly readers may be more likely to miscode words that have higher frequency neighbors. Experiment 3 examined the role that syntax plays in the neighbor frequency effect during reading. Prior research by Folk and Morris (2003) using ambiguous word stimuli that spanned syntactic category suggests that syntax can mediate the meaning resolution process. A critical difference between lexically ambiguous words and the words used in experiments 1-3 is that the two meanings of lexically ambiguous words have the phonological code. Therefore, Experiment 4 used words that are homonyms with their higher frequency neighbor (beech, beach).

Subject Area

Psychology|Experiments|Cognitive therapy

Recommended Citation

Slattery, Timothy James, "Neighbor frequency effects during reading: Is there a parallel with lexical ambiguity?" (2007). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3289252.