Figure 122

Gaze duration as a function of whether the subject noun was inanimate or animate. Adapted from Just and Carpenter (1992).

syntactically ambiguous until the end (e.g., "The experienced soldiers warned about the dangers before the midnight raid"), but were finally given the more predictable resolution; others were unambiguous (e.g., "The experienced soldiers spoke about the dangers before the midnight raid").

Participants with a high reading span processed the ambiguous sentences more slowly than the unambiguous ones, especially close to the part of the sentence in which the ambiguity was resolved (see Figure 12.3). These participants incurred a cost in terms of processing time for maintaining two different syntactic interpretations of the ambiguous sentences. In contrast, those with a low reading span did not differ in their processing times for ambiguous and unambiguous sentences, presumably because they treated such sentences as if they were unambiguous.

According to capacity theory, the processes involved in maintaining the last words of sentences in memory in the reading-span task resemble those used in sentence comprehension. Just, Carpenter, and Keller (1996) tested this hypothesis using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI; see Chapter 1). Sentences were presented for comprehension under two conditions: (1) read only; or (2) read and maintain each last word. The brain area of most interest was Wernicke's area, which is involved in language comprehension. There was much more activity in Wernicke's area in the read-and-maintain condition than in the read-only condition. As Just et al. (1996, p. 775) concluded, "the present study supports the argument that the maintenance aspect of the reading-span task draws on processes that overlap with those in sentence comprehension."

The notion in capacity theory that reading span reflects specific reading-related processes was disputed by Turner and Engle (1989), who assessed what they called the operation span. The participants were presented with a series of items such as, "IS (4*2)-3=5? TABLE". Their task was to answer each arithmetical question and remember the last word from each item. Their key findings were that operation span (the maximum number of items for which the participants could remember all the last words) correlated as highly with language comprehension as did reading span. These finding would not be expected if reading span is associated with language comprehension because it specifically assesses reading-related processes. The findings of Turner and Engle (1989), when taken together with other similar ones, suggest that "complex tasks such as reading span reflect general, domain-free attentional resources that will be important in any cognitive task requiring controlled processing" (Engle & Conway, 1998, p. 83).


High reading span

■o Low reading span




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