Delayed onset facilitates subsequent retrieval of words during language comprehension

Hossein Karimi, Michele Diaz, Eva Wittenberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Prior research has shown that during language comprehension, memory representations associated with premodified words (e.g., the injured and dangerous bear) are retrieved faster from memory than those associated with unmodified words (e.g., the bear). Current explanations attribute this effect to the semantic richness of modified words. However, it is not clear whether the presence of modifying words are in fact necessary for a retrieval benefit. Premodifiers necessarily delay the onset of the target word (i.e., bear), and temporal delays may heighten attention to upcoming stimuli, and/or strengthen encoding by producing free time during encoding, facilitating subsequent retrieval. We therefore examined whether a simple delay in the onset of the target can produce a retrieval benefit. Our results show that delayed onset facilitates the subsequent retrieval of target words in the absence of any modifying information. These results lend support to models of language comprehension according to which delays may enhance attention to upcoming words, and also to models of working memory based on which free time replenishes encoding resources, strengthening the memory trace of encoded information and facilitating its retrieval at a subsequent point. Our results also contribute to current memory-based theories of sentence comprehension by showing that retrieval from memory may be affected by nonlinguistic factors such as delay-induced attention enhancement, or free time during encoding.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)491-508
Number of pages18
JournalMemory and Cognition
Issue number3
StatePublished - Apr 2024

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)

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