Parallel word processing in the flanker paradigm has a rightward bias


  • Snell Joshua
  • Grainger Jonathan

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Reading research is exhibiting growing interest in employing variants of the flanker paradigm to address several questions about reading. The paradigm is particularly suited for investigating parallel word processing, parafoveal-on-foveal influences, and visuospatial attention in a simple but constrained setting. However, this methodological deviation from natural reading warrants careful assessment of the extent to which cognitive processes underlying reading operate similarly in these respective settings. The present study investigated whether readers' distribution of attention in the flanker paradigm resembles that observed during sentence reading; that is, with a rightward bias. Participants made lexical decisions about foveal target words while we manipulated parafoveal flanking words. In line with prior research, we established a parafoveal-on-foveal repetition effect, and this effect was increased for rightward flankers compared with leftward flankers. In a second experiment, we found that, compared with a no-flanker condition, rightward repetition flankers facilitated target processing, while leftward flankers interfered. Additionally, the repetition effect was larger for rightward than for leftward flankers. From these findings, we infer that attention in the flanker paradigm is indeed biased toward the right, and that the flanker paradigm thus provides an effective analogy to natural reading for investigating the role of visuospatial attention. The enhanced parafoveal-on-foveal effects within the attended region further underline the key role of attention in the spatial integration of orthographic information. Lastly, we conclude that future research employing the flanker paradigm should take the asymmetrical aspect of the attentional deployment into account.

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