Individual differences in the detection of incongruence: an eye-movement study of children’s pronoun processing

The study presented in this talk aimed to understand automatic and strategic processes in children’s pronoun resolution during reading for comprehension. In two eye tracking experiments, we tested German fourth graders’ sensitivity to a pronoun gender mismatch. In our first experiment, we showed children and adults two-phrase sentences like “Max(m)/Mia(f) fed the mouse and then he(m) scrubbed the dirty cage”. Eye tracking measures showed no qualitative differences between children’s and adults’ pronoun processing. For example, both groups showed longer gaze durations directly in the region of a mismatching pronoun. However, in contrast to the adults, only about half of the fourth graders were able to report the gender mismatch. In a second experiment (N = 75), we confirmed that about half of the fourth graders report detecting the gender mismatch. Successful detection was further associated with shorter overall gaze durations, but identical total reading times. Moreover, children who detected the mismatch were more likely to make regressions from the pronoun. We conclude that children who read more fluently use their greater availability of processing resources to immediately repair inconsistencies in text.