The time course of the retrieval of antecedent information during the processing of anaphoric reference was examined in four experiments. In each experiment subjects read paragraphs that appeared one word at a time on a CRT screen. At unexpected times, they were given a single-word recognition test. Response times and error rates for these tests indicated that both the referent (e.g., car) of a superordinate anaphor (e.g., the vehicle) and concepts in the same proposition as the referent become activated as early as 250 milliseconds after the anaphor is read. The referent remains activated as the sentence is read, but the activation of other concepts dies away. The results are interpreted as support for the proposal that antecedent information is initially retrieved in the form of propositions, but only certain concepts from those propositions, those that are important for establishing text structure, remain activated.
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