An incremental information-theoretic buffer supports sentence processing

Abstract

People have the capability to process text three times faster than they would naturally read it, yet many current theories of sentence processing rely on natural reading times as a proxy for processing difficulty. How can people read material so quickly in spite of information processing limitations suggested by sentence processing theories? One possibility is that surprisal effects on reading time, the hallmark of processing difficulty under sentence processing theories, might arise from perceptual processing, implying no relation between surprisal and sentence processing difficulty. In this paper, we conducted a novel self-paced rapid serial visual presentation (RSVP) experiment, which controlled perceptual processes to probe for sentence processing related surprisal effects. We further tested how readers might compensate for information processing limits during RSVP. We find support for sentence processing related surprisal effects, the pattern of which is consistent with a First-In, First-Out (FIFO) buffer model.


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