ISSN 0439-755X
CN 11-1911/B

Acta Psychologica Sinica ›› 2021, Vol. 53 ›› Issue (7): 729-745.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1041.2021.00729

• Reports of Empirical Studies • Previous Articles     Next Articles

Exploring the cognitive mechanism of irrelevant speech effect in Chinese reading: Evidence from eye movements

WU Sanmei1,2, TIAN Liangsu3, CHEN Jiaqiao3, CHEN Guangyao4(), WANG Jingxin1()   

  1. 1 Department of Psychology, Renmin University of China, Beijing 100872, China
    2 Academic Affairs Department, Guangdong AIB Polytechnic College, Guangzhou 510507, China
    3 School of Psychology, South China Normal University, Guangzhou 510631, China
    4 School of Journalism & Communication/National Media & Experimental Teaching Center, Jinan University, Guangzhou 510632, China
  • Published:2021-07-25 Online:2021-05-24
  • Contact: CHEN Guangyao,WANG Jingxin;
  • Supported by:
    National Natural Science Foundation of China(81771823);Humanities and Social Sciences Research Project of Ministry of Education(20YJC190024);the Fundamental Research Funds for Central Universities(19JNQM04)


Eye-tracking is used to explore the cognitive mechanism of irrelevant speech effects in Chinese reading. The types of background speech (intelligible background speech, unintelligible background speech, and silence) were manually assigned, and three distinct experiments were conducted to investigate the irrelevant speech effects on the reading of simple sentences, complex sentences, and paragraphs. The results showed no significant difference in key eye movement measures between a silent background and an unintelligible background speech condition across all three experiments. In Experiment 1 (simple sentences), there was no significant difference between the silent and intelligible background speech condition. However, in Experiment 2 (complex sentences), normal reading was disrupted with an intelligible background speech, and an ISE was seen for more difficult sentences. Finally, Experiment 3 (paragraphs) also suggested an ISE. The conclusions from the three experiments include two aspects. Firstly, unintelligible background speech does not disrupt normal reading significantly, which contradicts the Phonological-Interference Hypothesis. Secondly, intelligible background speech can disrupt the reading of complex (but not simple) sentences as well as paragraph reading, which is supportive of the Semantic-Interference Hypothesis. It can be inferred from such findings that irrelevant speech might disrupt later stages of lexical processing and semantic integration in reading, and such disruption is modulated by the difficulty of the reading task.

Key words: irrelevant speech effect, background speech, reading, cognitive mechanism, eye-movements