Parsing the late-closure ambiguity: While Schrödinger measured the cat escaped from the box

Zhiying Qian, Gary S. Dell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


An experiment investigated the "good-enough" processing account regarding how people parse sentences with late-closure ambiguity, such as While Anna dressed the baby who was cute and cuddly spit up on the bed. One possible result of an initial misparse of the sentence (thinking that Anna dressed the baby) is that the correct parse then cannot be created. The alternative is that, although the misparse may linger in the comprehender’s mind, the correct parse is eventually established and coexists with the misparse. This study approached this issue through an analogy to quantum physics. When photons are directed toward two small slits, it appears as if each photon passes through both slits (“bothness”). If particles not subject to quantum effects are directed at the slits, they pass through one or the other (“oneness”). Participants read sentences containing the late-closure ambiguity and afterward answered two questions about each sentence. These could query the potential misparse (Did Anna dress the baby?), correct-parse (Did Anna dress herself?), or the main clause (Did the baby spit up on the bed?), and the order of the question types was varied to test for quantum measurement context effects. The results supported "oneness," that is, the correct-parse and misparse of the subordinate clause do not coexist. Participants rarely said "yes" to both the misparse and correct-parse questions, and the "yes" response proportions for these two questions invariably added up to around 1.0. Furthermore, no quantum-like measurement-order effect between misparse and correct-parse questions was found.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)401-409
Number of pages9
JournalPsychonomic Bulletin and Review
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2024


  • Language comprehension
  • Psycholinguistics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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