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Child Development Research
Volume 2014, Article ID 475315, 13 pages
Research Article

Children’s and Adolescents’ Processing of Temporary Syntactic Ambiguity: An Eye Movement Study

School of Psychology, University of East Anglia, Norwich Research Park, Norwich, NR4 7TJ, UK

Received 11 April 2014; Revised 17 July 2014; Accepted 30 July 2014; Published 19 August 2014

Academic Editor: Glenda Andrews

Copyright © 2014 Paul E. Engelhardt. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


This study examined the eye movements of 24 children and adolescents as they read sentences containing temporary syntactic ambiguities. Prior research suggested that children primarily use grammatical information when making initial parsing decisions, and they tend to disregard semantic and contextual information. On each trial, participants read a garden path sentence (e.g., While the storm blew the boat sat in the shed), and, afterwards, they answered a comprehension question (e.g., Did the storm blow the boat?). The design was 2 × 2 (verb type × ambiguity) repeated measures. Verb type was optionally transitive or reflexive, and sentences were ambiguous or unambiguous. Results showed no differences in first pass reading times at the disambiguating verb (e.g., sat). However, regressions did show a significant interaction. The unambiguous-reflexive condition had approximately half the number of regressions, suggesting less processing difficulty in this condition. Developmentally, we found that adolescents had significantly better comprehension, which seemed to be linked to the increased tendency to regress from the disambiguating word. Findings are consistent with the assumption that the processing architecture is more restricted in children compared to adolescents. In addition, results indicated that variance in ambiguity resolution was associated with interference control but not working memory.