Teasing apart encoding and retrieval interference in sentence comprehension: Evidence from agreement attraction

AbstractThis study investigates interference effects in sentence processing. A parade case involves agreement attraction, where the processing of a number mismatch between a verb and its subject is eased by a number-matching lure (*The key(target) to the cabinets(lure) were rusty), relative to sentences where neither noun matches the verb (*The key to the cabinet were rusty). Existing accounts claim that this effect reflects error-prone retrieval or misrepresentation of the target. Recently, a third account has been proposed which claims that the contrast between the two configurations reflects increased difficulty in the second sentence due to feature overwriting in the encoding (both nouns are singular). We provide results from two self-paced reading experiments that isolate the effects of feature overwriting and attraction by manipulating the presence of an agreement cue. Results showed a larger difference within the configurations with a cue, which suggest that attraction cannot be reduced to feature overwriting.

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