Processing ambiguous verbs: evidence from eye movements

M J Pickering, S Frisson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In 2 eye-tracking experiments, participants read verbs that had 2 (unrelated) meanings or 2 (related) senses in contexts that disambiguated before or after the verb, to the dominant or subordinate interpretation. A 3rd experiment used unambiguous verbs. The results indicated that the language processor used information about context in the early stages of resolving meaning ambiguities but only during integration for sense ambiguities. Effects of preference were delayed for both types of verbs. The results contrast with findings concerning the processing of nouns (e.g., K. Rayner & S. A. Duffy, 1986). For meaning ambiguities, the authors argue that delays in resolution allow both meanings to reach a high level of activation, thus reducing effects of frequency. For sense ambiguities, the authors argue that the processor does not access multiple senses but activates one underspecified meaning and uses context to home in on the appropriate sense.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)556-73
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2001


  • Adult
  • Attention
  • Eye Movements
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Psycholinguistics
  • Reading
  • Semantics
  • Verbal Learning


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