Context strengthens initial misinterpretations of text

Kiel Christianson, Steven G. Luke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Three self-paced reading experiments examined the effect of context on interpret- ing subsequent sentences and in the difficulty of revising initial misinterpretations of subsequent temporarily ambiguous sentences. Target sentences containing noun phrase/sentence (NP/S) coordination ambiguities were preceded by contexts that either did or did not support the preferred, incorrect "NP and NP" interpretation. Online reading times and offline comprehension question responses were the depen- dent variables. Results suggest that when propositional content of incoming text is consistent with propositional content of the context, readers often hang on to the resulting coherent interpretation even when subsequent input contradicts it. Results also suggest that (a) context affects reading times and final interpretation; (b) when context and comprehension questions bias readers toward the incorrect interpretation, even unambiguous sentences are regularly misinterpreted; and (c) both semantic content and syntactic form of context influence how the context and subsequent text are integrated in memory.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)136-166
Number of pages31
JournalScientific Studies of Reading
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Psychology (miscellaneous)


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