Individual differences in syntactic processing: Is there evidence for reader-text interactions?

Ariel N. James, Scott H. Fraundorf, Eun Kyung Lee, Duane G. Watson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


There remains little consensus about whether there exist meaningful individual differences in syntactic processing and, if so, what explains them. We argue that this partially reflects the fact that few psycholinguistic studies of individual differences include multiple constructs, multiple measures per construct, or tests for reliable measures. Here, we replicated three major syntactic phenomena in the psycholinguistic literature: use of verb distributional statistics, difficulty of object- versus subject-extracted relative clauses, and resolution of relative clause attachment ambiguities. We examine whether any individual differences in these phenomena could be predicted by language experience or general cognitive abilities (phonological ability, verbal working memory capacity, inhibitory control, and perceptual speed). We find correlations between individual differences and offline, but not online, syntactic phenomena. Condition effects on online reading time were not consistent within individuals, limiting their ability to correlate with other measures. We suggest that this might explain controversy over individual differences in language processing.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)155-181
Number of pages27
JournalJournal of Memory and Language
Publication statusPublished - 2018 Oct

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by R01 DC008774 and James S. McDonnell Foundation funding to DGW and by NSF Grant DGE-1144245 to ANJ.

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

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

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