Contrasting intrusion profiles for agreement and anaphora: Experimental and modeling evidence

Brian Dillon*, Alan Mishler, Shayne Sloggett, Colin Phillips

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

183 Scopus citations


We investigated the relationship between linguistic representation and memory access by comparing the processing of two linguistic dependencies that require comprehenders to check that the subject of the current clause has the correct morphological features: subject-verb agreement and reflexive anaphors in English. In two eye-tracking experiments we examined the impact of structurally illicit noun phrases on the computation of reflexive and subject-verb agreement. Experiment 1 directly compared the two dependencies within participants. Results show a clear difference in the intrusion profile associated with each dependency: agreement resolution displays clear intrusion effects in comprehension (as found by Pearlmutter, Garnsey, & Bock, 1999; Wagers, Lau, & Phillips, 2009), but reflexives show no such intrusion effect from illicit antecedents (Sturt, 2003; Xiang, Dillon, & Phillips, 2009). Experiment 2 replicated the lack of intrusion for reflexives, confirming the reliability of the pattern and examining a wider range of feature combinations. In addition, we present modeling evidence that suggests that the reflexive results are best captured by a memory retrieval mechanism that uses primarily syntactic information to guide retrievals for the anaphor's antecedent, in contrast to the mixed morphological and syntactic cues used resolve subject-verb agreement dependencies. Despite the fact that agreement and reflexive dependencies are subject to a similar morphological agreement constraint, in online processing comprehenders appear to implement this constraint in distinct ways for the two dependencies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)85-103
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Memory and Language
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 2013


  • ACT-R
  • Agreement
  • Memory retrieval
  • Reflexives
  • Sentence processing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Artificial Intelligence


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