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To dash or to dawdle: verb-associated speed of motion influences eye movements during spoken sentence comprehension

Public Library of Science
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  • Linguistics
  • Logic


In describing motion events verbs of manner provide information about the speed of agents or objects in those events. We used eye tracking to investigate how inferences about this verb-associated speed of motion would influence the time course of attention to a visual scene that matched an event described in language. Eye movements were recorded as participants heard spoken sentences with verbs that implied a fast (“dash”) or slow (“dawdle”) movement of an agent towards a goal. These sentences were heard whilst participants concurrently looked at scenes depicting the agent and a path which led to the goal object. Our results indicate a mapping of events onto the visual scene consistent with participants mentally simulating the movement of the agent along the path towards the goal: when the verb implies a slow manner of motion, participants look more often and longer along the path to the goal; when the verb implies a fast manner of motion, participants tend to look earlier at the goal and less on the path. These results reveal that event comprehension in the presence of a visual world involves establishing and dynamically updating the locations of entities in response to linguistic descriptions of events.

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