Priming prepositional-phrase attachment during comprehension

Holly P. Branigan, Martin J. Pickering, Janet F. McLean

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

132 Citations (Scopus)


Strong evidence suggests that prior syntactic context affects language production (e.g., J. K. Bock, 1986). The authors report 4 experiments that used an expression-picture matching task to investigate whether it also affects ambiguity resolution in comprehension. All experiments examined the interpretation of prepositional phrases that were ambiguous between high and low attachment. After reading a prime expression with a high-attached interpretation, participants tended to interpret an ambiguous prepositional phrase in a target expression as highly attached if it contained the same verb as the prime (Experiment 1), but not if it contained a different verb (Experiment 2). They also tended to adopt the high-attached interpretation after producing a prime with the high-attached interpretation that included the same verb (Experiment 3). Finally, they were faster to adopt a high-attached interpretation after reading an expression containing the same verb that was disambiguated to the high-attached versus the low-attached interpretation (Experiment 4).
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)468-481
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Learning Memory and Cognition
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - May 2005


  • Syntax
  • Parsing
  • Syntactic priming
  • Ambiguity resolution
  • Alignment


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