(Eye) tracking short-term memory over time

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Background: Previous studies have produced conflicting findings concerning the role of short-term memory in syntactic comprehension.

Aims: The study aimed to investigate whether eye-movement monitoring shows significant differences in critical sentences and in sentence-critical areas for patients with an impaired short-term memory compared to controls.

Methods & Procedures: We monitored a short-term memory patient during a 4-year period with on-line and off-line tasks. On the last examination her eye movements were tested while she was reading four different types of sentence that she had to judge for plausibility. Response times, accuracy, and eye movements were recorded. Her performance was compared to that of seven matched controls.

Outcomes & Results: Accuracy improved along with span increase. However, the patient's response times were slower than controls' even after partial span recovery. Fixations and regressions in relative clauses were significantly more frequent than in sentences with simple coordination. In addition the patient differed from controls in fixations and regressions on the critical region, namely the relative clause.

Conclusions: Taken together, our results suggest that verbal short-term memory is involved in the comprehension of syntactically complex sentences and not only in post-interpretive stages. This result must be taken into account when programming an aphasia treatment concerning sentence comprehension.

Keywords: Eye tracking; Short-term memory; Syntactic comprehension

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02687038.2011.587179

Affiliations: Dipartimento di Psicologia,Università di Milano-Bicocca, Milano, Italy

Publication date: March 1, 2012

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