Journal of Cultural Cognitive Science

, Volume 3, Issue 2, pp 113–139 | Cite as

Fixations in the visual world paradigm: where, when, why?

  • James S. MagnusonEmail author


Over the last 25 years, the visual world paradigm has enabled discoveries and theoretical advances in spoken language processing. However, the intuitive interpretation of fixations in the visual world paradigm—that fixations directly reflect over-time processes of activation and competition governing cognitive and language processing—deserves scrutiny. This paper provides a selective review of studies that suggest that the relations between fixations and ongoing processing are more complex than suggested by the intuitive interpretation. A particular challenge is explaining why context sometimes appears to have deep effects on language processing, while other times fixations appear to violate strong contextual constraints. I discuss implications of these seemingly contradictory patterns for theories of real-world language processing, and practical implications for using the visual world paradigm. Along the way, I review four possible linking hypotheses for connecting measures in the paradigm to theories of language and cognition. This review leads to the conclusion that implemented computational models will be needed to assess to what degree different linking hypotheses generate distinguishable predictions.


Visual world paradigm Eye tracking Psycholinguistics 



This paper is based on a talk presented at the Attentive Listener in the Visual World meeting in Trondheim, Norway, in August, 2018. I am grateful to Falk Huettig, Mila Vulchanova, Valentin Vulchanov, Inge-Marie Eigsti, and Kenny Coventry for stimulating discussions that reshaped this paper. Preparation of this paper was supported in part by U.S. National Science Foundation Grants 1754284, Computational approaches to human spoken word recognition, and 1735225, Science of learning, from neurobiology to real-world application.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

On behalf of all authors, the corresponding author states that there is no conflict of interest.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Psychological SciencesUniversity of ConnecticutStorrsUSA

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