Honors Theses

Date of Award

Spring 5-10-2023

Document Type

Undergraduate Thesis


Communication Sciences and Disorders

First Advisor

Hyejin Park

Second Advisor

Greg Snyder

Third Advisor

Vishakha Rawool

Relational Format



Spreading activation theory proves the way our brains are semantically wired to accept outside information and understand it. Previous studies have demonstrated the effects of spreading activation theory in different settings and activities. These effects are important to understand because they can be used in therapy and assessment for communication disorders. This study explores how the context of sentences affects reading time on noun targets in healthy young adults using an eye tracking method. Specifically, we compared functional and location context types and manipulated the context to be incongruent or congruent to the targets. Our research questions were (1) whether functional or location context facilitates the target reading time more and (2) whether the incongruent functional or location context interferes with reading time more.

We recruited 51 college students at the University of Mississippi as participants in the study, and 44 of them were included for data analysis. Fourteen stimuli of each context condition (no context, congruent functional context, congruent location context, incongruent functional context, and incongruent location context), a total of 70 sentences, were presented to participants for silent reading. The participants’ eye movements were monitored using an EyeLink 1000 Plus eye tracking device. We compared dwell time (ms) on target words between sentence contexts.

Our results showed a significant context effect where functional context has a stronger effect on reading target words than location context. The dwell time in the incongruent location

condition was not different from the congruent location condition. On the other hand, the dwell time in the incongruent function condition was longer than the congruent function condition.

Dwell time is the total time (in milliseconds) spent on the interest area in the given interest period. Therefore, our data show that congruent functional context aids the semantic network the most in creating semantic connections. This data should be used to conduct further research on context effects for persons with communication disorders that can be used in therapy.

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