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Lang Cogn Process. 2011;26(3):376-405. Epub 2010 Jul 19.

Representational Complexity and Memory Retrieval in Language Comprehension.

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Center for Research in Language, University of California-San Diego, La Jolla, CA, Telephone: (650)-387-6641.


Mental representations formed from words or phrases may vary considerably in their feature-based complexity. Modern theories of retrieval in sentence comprehension do not indicate how this variation and the role of encoding processes should influence memory performance. Here, memory retrieval in language comprehension is shown to be influenced by a target's representational complexity in terms of syntactic and semantic features. Three self-paced reading experiments provide evidence that reading times at retrieval sites (but not earlier) decrease when more complex phrases occur as filler-phrases in filler-gap dependencies. The data also show that complexity-based effects are not dependent on string length, syntactic differences, or the amount of processing the stimuli elicit. Activation boosting and reduced similarity-based interference are implicated as likely sources of these complexity-based effects.

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