Tracking the Continuity of Language Comprehension: Computer Mouse Trajectories Suggest Parallel Syntactic Processing


Department of Psychology, Uris Hall, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, 14853. E-mail:


Although several theories of online syntactic processing assume the parallel activation of multiple syntactic representations, evidence supporting simultaneous activation has been inconclusive. Here, the continuous and non-ballistic properties of computer mouse movements are exploited, by recording their streaming x, y coordinates to procure evidence regarding parallel versus serial processing. Participants heard structurally ambiguous sentences while viewing scenes with properties either supporting or not supporting the difficult modifier interpretation. The curvatures of the elicited trajectories revealed both an effect of visual context and graded competition between simultaneously active syntactic representations. The results are discussed in the context of 3 major groups of theories within the domain of sentence processing.