The maze task: Measuring forced incremental sentence processing time

Kenneth I. Forster, Christine Guerrera, Lisa Elliot

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

62 Scopus citations


The maze task is an online measure of sentence processing time that provides an alternative to the standard moving window version of self-paced reading. Rather than each word of the sentence being presented in succession, two words are presented at the same time, and the participant must choose which word is a grammatical continuation of the sentence. This procedure forces the reader into an incremental mode of processing in which each word must be fully integrated with the preceding context before the next word can be considered. Previous research with this technique has not considered whether it is sufficiently sensitive to syntactic complexity effects or to garden path effects. Four experiments are reported demonstrating that reliable differences in processing time for subject relatives and object relatives can be obtained, and that this technique generates garden path effects that correspond closely with the data from eyetracking experiments, but without the spillover effects that are sometimes obtained with eyetracking. It is also shown that the task is sensitive to word frequency effects, producing estimates well in excess of those found with eyetracking.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)163-171
Number of pages9
JournalBehavior research methods
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2009

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Psychology (miscellaneous)
  • General Psychology


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