Competition between orthographically and phonologically similar words during sentence reading: evidence from eye movements

Steven Frisson, Andrew Olson, Linda Wheeldon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Two eye movement experiments tested the effect of orthographic and/or phonological overlap between prime and target words embedded in a sentence. In Experiment 1, four types of overlap were tested: phonological and orthographic overlap (O+P+) occurring word initially (strain–strait) or word finally (wings–kings), orthographic overlap alone (O+P, bear–gear) and phonological overlap alone (OP+, smile–aisle). Only O+P+ overlap resulted in inhibition, with the rhyming condition showing an immediate inhibition effect on the target word and the non-rhyming condition on the spillover region. No priming
effects were found on any eye movement measure for the O+P or the OP+ conditions. Experiment 2 demonstrated that the size of this inhibition effect is affected by both the distance between the prime and target words and by syntactic structure. Inhibition was again observed when primes and targets appeared close together (approximately 3 words). In contrast, no inhibition was observed when the separation was nine words on average, with the prime and target either appearing in the same sentence or separated by a sentence break. However, when the target was delayed but still in the same sentence, the size of
the inhibitory effect was affected by the participants’ level of reading comprehension. Skilled comprehenders were more negatively impacted by related primes than less skilled comprehenders. This suggests that good readers keep lexical representations active across larger chunks of text, and that they discard this activation at the end of the sentence. This pattern of results is difficult to accommodate in existing competition or episodic memory models of priming.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Memory and Language
Publication statusPublished - May 2014


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