Cognitive Psychology, 2nd Ed.
Chapter 12
Language Comprehension
Word Recognition
Recognition of 30,000 to 80,000 words in 200
ms involves bottom-up processing. Low level
visual analysis in the occipital cortex plus
specialized analysis of word forms (words and
pseudowords but not letter strings) in the left
posterior cortex.
N400 ERPs to semantically anomalous words
reveals parallel top-down processing.
Poor readers fail to use global text structure
in comprehension and are slower in word
Word Frequency Effect (WFE)
Refers to high-frequency words being
recognized faster and more accurately than
low-frequency words. The task requires
naming the word aloud.
200 ms recognition time and vocabulary size
suggests parallel search models.
The magnitude of the frequency effect is
greater for exception words compared to
regular words.
Connectionist Models of WFE
A hidden layer model using back
propagation can learn to associate
orthography to phonology.
The errors made by the network were
high for low frequency exception words,
matching the slow RT shown by human
subjects to these items.
Dual Route Model of WFE
Recognition can proceed by a direct path
from graphemes to an orthographic lexicon to
the lexical-semantic system or by an indirect
path of grapheme to phoneme conversion.
The direct lexical path is faster than the
indirect conversion path. For low frequency
words (e.g.,pint), the indirect path interferes
with the correct pronunciation. For high
frequency words, recognition is complete via
the direct path before the indirect conversion
path can interfere (e.g., have).
Surface dyslexics fail to read exception words
correctly but can read nonwords. This could
mean a selective breakdown in the direct
lexical path.
Phonological dyslexics read entirely by sight
vocabulary. Nonwords and low frequency
rare words cannot be read. This could mean
a breakdown of the indirect conversion path.
Sentence Comprehension
Comprehension involves building mental
representations similar to constructing a
building. For example, a topic sentence is
fixated longer than other sentences, allowing
the reader to lay a foundation.
Suppositions and inferences go beyond the
literal words in constructing an accurate
mental representation of the author’s or
speaker’s intentions.
A simple assertion (e.g., the star is
above the plus) takes 1,450 ms to
To comprehend a negative, one must
first presuppose the simple assertion
and then deny it, taking an additional
300 ms (e.g., the star is not above the
Anaphoric reference is illustrated by the
problem of linking a pronoun to its
antecedent reference noun (e.g.,
William went for a walk. He meandered
through Dante’s square.).
Activation of referents and suppression
of nonreferents through inhibition result
in the proper linkage.
Given-new strategy in reading assumes
that writers mark information already
understood as opposed to new
information. New information
(someone meandered); old information
(the person is William)
Explicit marking is quickest to grasp
(William < bard < he).
Polysemy is the property of language that a
single word can have more than one
meaning. Homonyms (bank—river or
finance?) and metaphors (time flies—how can
it without wings?) illustrates the problem.
Potential meanings are activated and then
selectively inhibited in word recognition.
Priming can directly activate nonliteral
readings of metaphors.
Discourse Comprehension
True discourse is referentially coherent,
meaning the words of each sentence
refer unambiguously to the others
Local cohesion helps provide this (e.g.,
Global frameworks representing the
theme or topic also help.
Global Frameworks
Micropropositions are the individual
propositions of a sentence.
Macropropositions are the schema-based
generalizations that summarize main points
or the gist of the text.
Story grammars, causal relations, and mental
models are alternative theoretical accounts of
global structures.
Process Models of Reading
Propositions from each sentence are
used to construct a textbase
A situation model is constructed in
parallel using input from the text and
from semantic long-term memory.
Macropropositions summarize the
textbase and situation model.
Process Models of Reading
Fixations (200-350 ms) and rapid eye
movements or saccades provide snapshots of
4 characters to the left and up to 15
characters to the right of each fixation point.
80% of content and 20% of function words
are fixated. With time to build mental
structures, 250-300 wpm is a normal reading
Process Models of Reading
Immediacy Assumption: an interpretation is
immediately attached to each word fixated.
N400 ERPs to anomolous words reflect an
attempt to assign meaning immediately.
Eye-Mind Assumption: the duration of
fixation varies proportionally with the amount
of information that must be processed (e.g., a
grammatically complex sentence takes more
time and activates more neural tissue than a
simple sentence).
Speed Reading is Trained
Start fixations at the right of first word
and take the last fixation prior to the
end of the sentence.
Focus on content words and infer
function words.
Avoid regressive eye movements.
Avoid subvocalization.

Cognitive Psychology, 2nd Ed.