Rules of Engagement: Incomplete and Complete Pronoun Resolution

  • Love J
  • McKoon G
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Research on shallow processing suggests that readers sometimes encode only a superficial representation of a text and fail to make use of all available information. Greene, McKoon, and Ratcliff (1992) extended this work to pronouns, finding evidence that readers sometimes fail to automatically identify referents even when these are unambiguous. In this paper we revisit those findings. In 11 recognition probe, priming, and self-report experiments, we manipulated Greene et al.'s stories to discover under what circumstances a pronoun's referent is automatically understood. We lengthened the stories from 4 to 8 lines. This simple manipulation led to automatic and correct resolution, which we attribute to readers' increased engagement with the stories. We found evidence of resolution even when the additional text did not mention the pronoun's referent. In addition, our results suggest that the pronoun temporarily boosts the referent's accessibility, an advantage that disappears by the end of the next sentence. Finally, we present evidence from memory experiments that supports complete pronoun resolution for the longer but not the shorter stories.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Engagement
  • Pronouns
  • Reading
  • Recognition memory

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  • Jessica Love

  • Gail McKoon

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