Applying the Visual World Paradigm in the Investigation of Preschoolers’ Online Reference Processing in a Naturalistic Discourse

AbstractUsing a novel adaptation of the visual world eye-tracking paradigm we investigated children’s and adults’ online processing of reference in a naturalistic language context. Participants listened to a 5-minute long storybook while wearing eye-tracking glasses. The gaze data were analyzed relative to the onset of referring expressions (i.e., full noun phrases (NPs) and pronouns) that were mentioned throughout the story. We found that following the mention of a referring expression there was an increase in the proportion of looks to the intended referent for both children and adults. However, this effect was only found early on in the story. As the story progressed, the likelihood that participants directed their eye gaze towards the intended referent decreased. We also found differences in the eye gaze patterns between NPs and pronouns, as well as between children and adults. Overall these findings demonstrate that the mapping between linguistic input and corresponding eye movements is heavily influenced by discourse context.

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