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Context length and reading novel words: An eye-movement investigation


Barbara J. Juhasz, Department of Psychology, Wesleyan University, 207 High Street, Middletown, CT 06459, USA (e-mail:


The current study investigated the effects of context length on the processing of novel words. Participants read real adjectives or novel words embedded in either sentence or paragraph contexts while their eye movements were recorded. The results extend the literature on novel word reading by exploring the time-course of word processing using realistic contexts derived from existing sources. Eye-movement measures demonstrated that readers were very sensitive to the presence of novel words. Novel words were more likely to be fixated and had longer reading times than real words. In addition, words in sentence contexts had longer gaze durations than words in paragraphs. The effect of novelty on reading the target word did not vary as a function of the context length. While performance on the surprise post-test did not demonstrate significant word learning, participants did report higher confidence in correct responses than incorrect, suggesting that some learning took place.