Syntactic adaptation leads to updated knowledge for local structural frequencies

Jack Dempsey, Qiawen Liu, Kiel Christianson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Syntactic adaptation has been shown to occur for various temporarily ambiguous structures, wherein an initially unexpected resolution becomes easier to process after repeated exposure. More controversial and less replicated is the claim that this adaptation towards a locally frequent structure occurs due to a strategic shifting of expectations to match short-term statistical regularities such that readers adapt away from the a priori more frequent structure. Experiment 1 replicates the initial adaptation towards a coordination garden path structure using self-paced reading; however, this paradigm has been criticised for its low reliability for detecting such small effects. To this end, Experiments 2 and 3 use a combination of self-paced reading and sentence completion tasks to replicate initial adaptation towards both coordination and reduced relative garden path structures and show evidence for a preference for these structures over their a priori more frequent alternatives. Together, these data reveal that participants may be tracking local structural statistics in real time; however, they may not be able to rapidly use that information to update processing behaviours.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number174702182311729
Pages (from-to)363-382
Number of pages20
JournalQuarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology
Issue number2
Early online dateApr 21 2023
StatePublished - Feb 2024


  • Syntactic adaptation
  • self-paced reading
  • sentence completions
  • ambiguity resolution

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • General Psychology
  • Physiology (medical)
  • Physiology


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