ISSN 0439-755X
CN 11-1911/B

Acta Psychologica Sinica ›› 2015, Vol. 47 ›› Issue (10): 1247-1259.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1041.2015.01247

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Effects of Agent’s Motivation on Mental Simulation during Sentence Comprehension

ZHANG Jijia1; WANG Xinxia1; HE Xiumei2   

  1. (1 Department of Psychology, Renmin University of China, Beijing 100872, China)
    (2 Department of Education Science, Yunnan Dali College, Dali 671000, China)
  • Received:2013-11-30 Published:2015-10-25 Online:2015-10-25
  • Contact: ZHANG Jijia, E-mail:



When reading sentences of motions, readers mentally simulate the motions of the sentences. This research investigates the effects of sentence protagonist’s motivation on mental simulation during sentence comprehension. Experiment 1 applied moving window technique to investigate participants’ reading time of the target word in the sentence. Sentences in experiment 1 describe motion events, which include an agent, a path and a goal (e.g. It’s hot, he walks along the path to the beverages store.). The target word is the goal word. The results show that with higher levels of agent’smotivation, the reading time of the goal word is shorter, which indicates that readers mentally simulate the emotion and action of the agent mentioned in the sentences during the comprehension. Study2 applied eye-tracking technique to investigate how inferences about agent’s motivation influence the time course of attention to a visual scene that matches themotion events in the sentences. Eye movements were recorded as participants were listening to the sentences with high (e.g. It’s hot, he walks along the path to the beverages store.) or low (e.g. It’s cool, he walks along the path to the beverages store.) levels of agent’s motivation. When the participants were listening to the sentences, they were looking at pictures depicting an agent and a path, which lead to a goal object. The results indicate a mapping of events onto the visual picture, which is consistent with participants mentally simulating the movement of the agent along the path towards the goal: with the context of low level of motivation, participants look more and longer along the path to the goal; with the context of high level of motivation, participants tend to look shorter at the goal and less on the path.
The description of path in the sentence plays an important role in the simulation of the events. Without mentioning path, the differences between high and low levels of motivation would not arise in Experiment 1. The pattern in Experiment 2 is also affected by the presence of path. If path is mentioned in the sentence, the discrepancy between high and low level of motivation would center on the area of path. While without describing path, the discrepancy would center on the area of goal. In Experiment 1, the presence of path made sentences longer and more concrete, leading to the discrepancy between long and short sentences. In Experiment 2, the presence of path attracted more visual attention to the path region. Otherwise, more attention would be allocated on the goal region.

In summary, these results reveal that event comprehension with the presence of visual stimuli involves establishing and dynamic updating the locations of entities in response to linguistic descriptions of events. In consistent with Study1, Study2 proved that both motivation and motion are simulated and the former influences the simulation of the latter. Conforming to the theory of mental simulation, sentence comprehension induces the simulation of the context. While processing events, readers are immersing in the situation and get information of emotion as well as objective facts.

Key words: protagonist, motivation levels, sentence understanding, mental simulation