Journal of Psycholinguistic Research

, Volume 35, Issue 1, pp 79–99 | Cite as

The Nature and Time Course of Pragmatic Plausibility Effects



The experiments reported in this article used a delayed same/different sentence matching task with concurrent measurement of eye movements to investigate the nature of the plausibility effect. The results clearly show that plausibility effects are not due to low level lexical associative processes, but arise as a consequence of the processing of the earliest or most basic form of sentential meaning. In fact, when sentential implausibility and lexical association are varied simultaneously, it is only sentential implausibility that exerts an effect. Effects of implausibility occur rapidly—sometimes parafoveally—and are localised in the regions of the sentence where the implausibility occurs, suggesting an incremental interpretive process progressing on a roughly word-by-word basis. It is suggested that plausibility effects result from the operation of a heuristically-driven process of sentential interpretation. This appears to behave in a ‘modular’ fashion, despite being influenced by real world knowledge and probabilities.


Plausibility Sentence Matching Eye Movements Parafoveal processing Modularity 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Blodgett A., Boland J.E. (2004). Differences in the timing of implausibility detection for recipient and instrument prepositional phrases. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research 33, 1–24PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Fodor J.A. (1983). The Modularity of Mind. McGraw-Hill, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  3. Fodor J.A., Garrett M.F., Walker E.C.T., Parkes C.H. (1980). Against definitions. Cognition 8, 263–367PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Forster K.I. (1974). The role of semantic hypotheses in sentence processing. In: Bresson F., Mehler J.(eds). Current Problems in Psycholinguistics. Editions du C.N.R.S., ParisGoogle Scholar
  5. Forster K.I. (1979). Levels of processing and the structure of the language processor. In: Cooper W.E., Walker E.C.T. (eds). Sentence Processing: Psycholinguistic Studies Presented to Merrill Garrett. Erlbaum, Hillsdale, NJ, pp. 27–81Google Scholar
  6. Forster K.I. (1987). Binding, plausibility, and modularity. In: Garfield J.L. (eds). Modularity in Knowledge Representation and Natural Language Understanding. MIT Press, Cambridge, MAGoogle Scholar
  7. Forster K.I., Olbrei I. (1973). Semantic heuristics and syntactic analysis. Cognition 2, 319–347CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Forster K.I., Ryder L.A. (1971). Perceiving the structure and meaning of sentences. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior 10, 285–296CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Katz J.J., Fodor J.A. (1963). The structure of a semantic theory. Language 39, 170–210CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Kennedy A., Murray W.S., Boissiere C. (2004). Parafoveal pragmatics revisited. European Journal of Cognitive Psychology. (Special Issue), 16: 128–153CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Kennedy A., Murray W.S., Jennings F., Reid C. (1989). Parsing complements: Comments on the generality of the principle of minimal attachment. Language and Cognitive Processes 4, SI 51–76CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Kucera H., Francis W.N. (1967). Computational Analysis of Present-Day American English. Brown University Press, Providence, RIGoogle Scholar
  13. Marks L.E., Miller G.A. (1964). The role of semantic and syntactic constraints in the memorization of English sentences. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior 3, 1–5CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. McCawley J.D. (1971). Where do noun phrases come from. In: Steinberg D.D., Jakobovits L.A. (eds). Semantics. CUP, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  15. Murray, W. S. (1982). Sentence matching: The influence of meaning and structure. Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation, Monash University.Google Scholar
  16. Murray W.S. (1998). Parafoveal pragmatics. In: Underwood G. (eds). Eye Guidance in Reading and Scene Perception. Elsevier, Oxford, pp. 181–200CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Murray W.S. (2000). Sentence processing: Issues and measures. In: Kennedy A., Radach R., Heller D., Pynte J. (eds). Reading as a Perceptual Process. Elsevier, Oxford, pp. 649–664CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Murray, W. S., & Marshall, J.-A. (2004). More parafoveal pragmatics. Paper presented at the Sixth European Workshop on Language Comprehension, Oleron, May.Google Scholar
  19. Murray W.S., Rowan M. (1998). Early, mandatory, pragmatic processing. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research 27, 1–22CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Ratcliff, J. (1983). Inference processes in the early stages of sentence comprehension: A study of the plausibility effect. Unpublished Doctoral dissertation, Monash University.Google Scholar
  21. Rayner K., Warren T., Juhasz B.J., Liversedge S.P. (2004). The effect of plausibility on eye movements in reading. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, & Cognition 30, 1290–1301CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Rosenberg S. (1969). The recall of verbal material accompanying semantically well-integrated and semantically poorly-integrated sentences. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior 8, 732–736CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Rosenberg S., Jarvella R.J. (1970). Semantic integration and sentence perception. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior 9, 548–553CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Traxler M.J., Pickering M.J. (1996). Plausibility and the processing of unbounded dependencies: An eye-tracking study. Journal of Memory and Language 35, 454–475CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Watson, I. J. (1976). The processing of implausible sentences. Unpublished Doctoral dissertation, Monash University.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of DundeeDundeeUK

Personalised recommendations