Task effects reveal cognitive flexibility responding to frequency and predictability: Evidence from eye movements in reading and proofreading

Elizabeth R. Schotter*, Klinton Bicknell, Ian Howard, Roger Levy, Keith Rayner

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

57 Scopus citations


It is well-known that word frequency and predictability affect processing time. These effects change magnitude across tasks, but studies testing this use tasks with different response types (e.g., lexical decision, naming, and fixation time during reading; Schilling, Rayner, & Chumbley, 1998), preventing direct comparison. Recently, Kaakinen and Hyönä (2010) overcame this problem, comparing fixation times in reading for comprehension and proofreading, showing that the frequency effect was larger in proofreading than in reading. This result could be explained by readers exhibiting substantial cognitive flexibility, and qualitatively changing how they process words in the proofreading task in a way that magnifies effects of word frequency. Alternatively, readers may not change word processing so dramatically, and instead may perform more careful identification generally, increasing the magnitude of many word processing effects (e.g., both frequency and predictability). We tested these possibilities with two experiments: subjects read for comprehension and then proofread for spelling errors (letter transpositions) that produce nonwords (e.g., trcak for track as in Kaakinen & Hyönä) or that produce real but unintended words (e.g., trial for trail) to compare how the task changes these effects. Replicating Kaakinen and Hyönä, frequency effects increased during proofreading. However, predictability effects only increased when integration with the sentence context was necessary to detect errors (i.e., when spelling errors produced words that were inappropriate in the sentence; trial for trail). The results suggest that readers adopt sophisticated word processing strategies to accommodate task demands.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-27
Number of pages27
Issue number1
StatePublished - Apr 2014


  • Eye movements
  • Frequency
  • Predictability
  • Reading
  • Task effects

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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