Effects of speaker gaze on spoken language comprehension: task matters


LListeners can use speakers' gaze to anticipate upcoming referents. We examined whether this listener benefit is affected by different comprehension subtasks. A video-taped speaker referred to depicted characters, using either a subject-verb-object or a non-canonical object-verb-subject German sentence. She shifted gaze once from the pre-verbal to the post-verbal referent, a behavior that could allow listeners to anticipate which character would be mentioned next. We recorded participants' eye movements to the characters during comprehension, as well as post-sentence verification times on whether a subsequent schematic depiction correctly highlighted the patient (Experiment 1) or the thematic role relations of the sentence (Experiment 2). Sentence structure affected response times only when verifying thematic roles. The eye movement data also showed reliable differences between tasks, regarding effects of sentence structure and their modulation by speaker gaze. We argue that processing accounts of situated comprehension must consider task effects on the allocation of visual attention.

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