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We monitored 8- and 10-year-old children's eye movements as they read sentences containing a temporary syntactic ambiguity to obtain a detailed record of their online processing. Children showed the classic garden-path effect in online processing. Their reading was disrupted following disambiguation, relative to control sentences containing a comma to block the ambiguity, although the disruption occurred somewhat later than would be expected for mature readers. We also asked children questions to probe their comprehension of the syntactic ambiguity offline. They made more errors following ambiguous sentences than following control sentences, demonstrating that the initial incorrect parse of the garden-path sentence influenced offline comprehension. These findings are consistent with "good enough" processing effects seen in adults. While faster reading times and more regressions were generally associated with better comprehension, spending longer reading the question predicted comprehension success specifically in the ambiguous condition. This suggests that reading the question prompted children to reconstruct the sentence and engage in some form of processing, which in turn increased the likelihood of comprehension success. Older children were more sensitive to the syntactic function of commas, and, overall, they were faster and more accurate than younger children.

Original publication




Journal article


Q J Exp Psychol (Hove)

Publication Date





855 - 879


Children's sentence processing, Eye movements, Good enough sentence processing, Reading development, Reanalysis, Syntactic ambiguity, Age Factors, Child, Child Development, Comprehension, Eye Movements, Female, Humans, Language, Male, Online Systems, Reading, Semantics