Tracking sentence comprehension: Test-retest reliability in people with aphasia and unimpaired adults

Jennifer E. Mack*, Andrew Zu Sern Wei, Stephanie Gutierrez, Cynthia K. Thompson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Purpose: Visual-world eyetracking is increasingly used to investigate online language processing in normal and language impaired listeners. Tracking changes in eye movements over time also may be useful for indexing language recovery in those with language impairments. Therefore, it is critical to determine the test-retest reliability of results obtained using this method. Methods: Unimpaired young adults and people with aphasia took part in two eyetracking sessions spaced about one week apart. In each session, participants completed a sentence-picture matching task in which they listened to active and passive sentences (e.g., The [N1+Aux woman was] [V visiting/visited] [NP/PP2 (by) the man]) and selected between two pictures with reversed thematic roles. We used intraclass correlations (ICCs) to examine the test-retest reliability of response measures (accuracy, reaction time (RT)) and online eye movements (i.e., the likelihood of fixating the target picture in each region of the sentence) in each participant group. Results: In the unimpaired adults, accuracy was at ceiling (thus ICCs were not computed), with moderate ICCs for RT (i.e., 0.4-0.58) for passive sentences and low (<0.4) for actives. In individuals with aphasia, test-retest reliability was strong (0.59 < ICC < 0.75) for accuracy and excellent (>0.75) for RT for both sentence types. Similarly, for the unimpaired listeners, reliability of eye movements was moderate for passive sentences (NP/PP2 region) and low in all regions for active sentences. But, for the aphasic participant group, eye movement reliability was excellent for passive sentences (in the first second after sentence end) and strong for active sentences (V and NP/PP2 regions). Conclusion: Results indicated moderate-to-low reliability for unimpaired listeners; however, reliable eye movement patterns were detected for processes specific to passive sentences (e.g., thematic reanalysis). In contrast, individuals with aphasia exhibited strong and stable performance across sentence types in response measures and online eye movements. These findings indicate that visual-world eyetracking provides a reliable measure of online sentence comprehension in aphasia, and thus may be useful for investigating sentence processing changes over time.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)98-111
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Neurolinguistics
StatePublished - Nov 1 2016


  • Aphasia
  • Eyetracking
  • Sentence comprehension
  • Test-retest reliability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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