Visual attention-capture cue in depicted scenes fails to modulate online sentence processing


  • Juliane Burmester Empirical Childhood Research, University of Potsdam
  • Katharina Spalek Department of German Language and Linguistics, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
  • Isabell Wartenburger Cognitive Sciences, Dept.Linguistics, University of Potsdam



Everyday communication is enriched by the visual environment that listeners concomitantly link to the linguistic input. If and when visual cues are integrated into the mental meaning representation of the communicative setting, is still unclear. In our earlier findings, the integration of linguistic cues (i.e., topic-hood of a discourse referent) reduced discourse updating costs of the mental representation as indicated by reduced sentence-initial processing costs of the non-canonical word order in German. In the present study we tried to replicate our earlier findings by replacing the linguistic cue by a visual attention-capture cue presented below the threshold of perception in order to direct participant’s attention to a depicted referent. While this type of cue has previously been shown to modulate word order preferences in sentence production, we found no effects on sentence comprehension. We discuss possible theory-based reasons for the null effect of the implicit visual cue as well as methodological caveats and issues that should be considered in future research on multimodal meaning integration.