Semantic preview benefit in English: Individual differences in the extraction and use of parafoveal semantic information

14 February 2019

While there is robust evidence that skilled readers of English extract and use orthographic and phonological information from the parafovea to facilitate word identification, semantic preview benefits are more elusive. We sought to establish whether individual differences in the extraction and/or use of parafoveal semantic information could account for this discrepancy. Ninety-nine adult readers were assessed on measures of reading and spelling ability and read sentences while their eye movements were recorded. The gaze-contingent boundary paradigm was used to manipulate the availability of relevant semantic and orthographic information in the parafovea. On average, readers showed a benefit from previews high in semantic feature overlap with the target. However reading and spelling ability yielded opposite effects on semantic preview benefit. High reading ability was associated with a semantic preview benefit that was equivalent to an identical preview on first-pass reading. High spelling ability was associated with a reduced semantic preview benefit despite an overall higher rate of skipping. These results suggest that differences in the magnitude of semantic preview benefits in English reflect constraints on extracting semantic information from the parafovea and competition between the orthographic features of the preview and target.