Skip to main content

Plausibility and perspective influence the processing of counterfactual narratives

Ferguson, Heather J., Jayes, Lewis (2018) Plausibility and perspective influence the processing of counterfactual narratives. Discourse Processes, 55 (2). pp. 166-186. ISSN 0163-853X. (doi:10.1080/0163853X.2017.1330032) (KAR id:59818)

PDF Author's Accepted Manuscript
Language: English
Download (422kB) Preview
[thumbnail of Count_Plaus_ET_InPress.pdf]
This file may not be suitable for users of assistive technology.
Request an accessible format
Official URL


Previous research has established that readers’ eye movements are sensitive to the difficulty with which a word is processed. One important factor that influences processing is the fit of a word within the wider context, including its plausibility. Here we explore the influence of plausibility in counterfactual language processing. Counterfactuals describe hypothetical versions of the world, but are grounded in the implication that the described events are not true. We report an eye-tracking study that examined the processing of counterfactual premises that varied the plausibility of a described action and manipulated the narrative perspective (“you” vs. “he/she”). Results revealed a comparable pattern to previous plausibility experiments. Readers were sensitive to the inconsistent thematic relation in anomalous and implausible conditions. The fact that these anomaly detection effects were evident within a counterfactual frame suggests that participants were evaluating incoming information within the counterfactual world, and did not suspend processing based on an inference about reality. Interestingly, perspective modulated the speed with which anomalous but not implausible words were detected.

Item Type: Article
DOI/Identification number: 10.1080/0163853X.2017.1330032
Uncontrolled keywords: Counterfactuals, plausibility, perspective, eye movements, depth of processing
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Human and Social Sciences > School of Psychology
Depositing User: Heather Ferguson
Date Deposited: 10 Jan 2017 15:46 UTC
Last Modified: 16 Feb 2021 13:41 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)
Ferguson, Heather J.:
  • Depositors only (login required):


Downloads per month over past year