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The Transposed-Word Effect Provides No Unequivocal Evidence for Parallel Processing

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posted on 2023-05-16, 11:24 authored by Sara Milledge1, Neya Bhatia, Loren Mensah-Mcleod, Pallvi Raghvani, Victoria McGowan, Mahnoud Elsherif, Michael Cutter, Jingxin Wang, Zhiwei Liu, Kevin Paterson

Studies using a grammaticality decision task have revealed surprising flexibility in the processing of word order during sentence reading in both alphabetic and non-alphabetic scripts. Participants in these studies typically exhibit a transposed-word effect, in which they make more errors and slower correct responses for stimuli that contain a word transposition and are derived from grammatical as compared to ungrammatical base sentences. Some researchers have used this finding to argue that words are encoded in parallel during reading, such that multiple words can be processed simultaneously and might be recognised out of order. This contrasts with an alternative account of the reading process, which argues that words must be encoded serially, one at a time. We examined, in English, whether the transposed-word effect provides evidence for a parallel-processing account, employing the same grammaticality decision task used in previous research and display procedures that either allowed for parallel word encoding or permitted only the serial encoding of words. Our results replicate and extend recent findings by showing that relative word order can be processed flexibly even when parallel processing is not possible (i.e., within displays requiring serial word encoding). Accordingly, while the present findings provide further evidence for flexibility in the processing of relative word order during reading, they add to converging evidence that the transposed-word effect does not provide unequivocal evidence for a parallel-processing account of reading. We consider how the present findings may be accounted for by both serial and parallel accounts of word recognition in reading.


The British Academy (grant number SRG2021\211261)


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School of Psychology and Vision Science, University of Leicester


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Attention, Perception, and Psychophysics


Springer (part of Springer Nature)



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