What happened (and what did not): Discourse constraints on encoding of plausible alternatives

Scott H. Fraundorf, Aaron S. Benjamin, Duane G. Watson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Three experiments investigated how font emphasis influences reading and remembering discourse. Although past work suggests that contrastive pitch contours benefit memory by promoting encoding of salient alternatives, it is unclear both whether this effect generalizes to other forms of linguistic prominence and how the set of alternatives is constrained. Participants read discourses in which some true propositions had salient alternatives (e.g., British scientists found the endangered monkey when the discourse also mentioned French scientists) and completed a recognition memory test. In Experiments 1 and 2, font emphasis in the initial presentation increased participants' ability to later reject false statements about salient alternatives but not about unmentioned items (e.g., Portuguese scientists). In Experiment 3, font emphasis helped reject false statements about plausible alternatives, but not about less plausible alternatives that were nevertheless established in the discourse. These results suggest readers encode a narrow set of only those alternatives plausible in the particular discourse. They also indicate that multiple manipulations of linguistic prominence, not just prosody, can lead to consideration of alternatives.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)196-227
Number of pages32
JournalJournal of Memory and Language
Issue number3
StatePublished - Oct 2013


  • Alternative sets
  • Discourse
  • Fonts
  • Reading
  • Recognition memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Artificial Intelligence


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