ISSN 0439-755X
CN 11-1911/B

Acta Psychologica Sinica ›› 2019, Vol. 51 ›› Issue (3): 293-303.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1041.2019.00293

• Reports of Empirical Studies • Previous Articles     Next Articles

The effects of discourse context and world knowledge on pronoun resolution

WU Yan1,GAO Yuefei1,ZHAO Simin1,WANG Suiping2()   

  1. 1 School of Psychology, Northeast Normal University, Changchun 130024, China
    2 School of Psychology, South China Normal University, Guangzhou 510631, China
  • Received:2018-06-22 Published:2019-03-25 Online:2019-01-22
  • Contact: Suiping WANG


Pronoun resolution can play a vital role in narrative comprehension. Understanding nature of pronoun resolution can help us to learn more about the cognitive processes underlying comprehension. Studies have shown that comprehension processes will be interrupted when a pronoun mismatches its prior context or the gender stereotype of its antecedent. This indicates that discourse context and world knowledge about gender stereotype can play an important role in pronoun resolution. Recently, researchers tried to combine these two factors together and to examine which factor is crucial to the pronoun resolution. The most controversial issue is that whether the discourse context could override the world knowledge which was told to be wrong by the passage, and exert earlier influence on the pronoun resolution. Therefore, the present study examined the effects of context and world knowledge as well as its time course on pronoun resolution with eye tracking measures.
In the Experiment 1, participants were asked to read the discourse with a personal pronoun congruent or incongruent with the gender stereotype of its antecedent, an occupation name. The results revealed that reading times (including gaze, second reading time and total reading time) increased when the gender of the pronoun mismatched with the gender stereotype of its antecedent.
In the Experiment 2, another personal pronoun indicating the gender of the antecedent would be inserted into the discourse as the prior context to update the readers’ gender stereotype of the occupation name. Therefore, readers would meet two identical personal pronouns while reading the passage. The first pronoun provided the updated gender information for the second pronoun. Again, the results of the first pronoun indicated that the gender stereotype of occupation could influence pronoun processing immediately. As for the second pronoun, the complicated results showed discourse context had an early influence on resolution of pronouns, but with the processing went on, the gender stereotype of occupation continued to influence integration. However, when the first pronoun was changed into an obvious gender description in Experiment 3, the discourse context was found not only to exert an earlier effect but the effect would be continued as the only factor to influence the pronoun resolution.
The current results clearly suggest that both gender stereotype and discourse context can affect the comprehension of Chinese pronouns. However, when the discourse context updates the gender stereotype of the antecedents, the updating information can override the world knowledge information to exert an earlier effect on pronoun resolution. But whether the effects will be continued depend on the strength of the discourse context. These findings provide evidence for the interactive model of sentence comprehension.

Key words: pronoun, discourse context, world knowledge, occupation gender stereotype

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