Staudte, Maria; Sekicki, Mirjana

Eye’ll help you out! How the gaze cue reduces the cognitive load required for reference processing

Cognitive science, 42, pp. 2418-2458, 2018.

Referential gaze has been shown to benefit language processing in situated communication in terms of shifting visual attention and leading to shorter reaction times on subsequent tasks. The present study simultaneously assessed both visual attention and, importantly, the immediate cognitive load induced at different stages of sentence processing.

We aimed to examine the dynamics of combining visual and linguistic information in creating anticipation for a specific object and the effect this has on language processing. We report evidence from three visual‐world eye‐tracking experiments, showing that referential gaze leads to a shift in visual attention toward the cued object, which consequently lowers the effort required for processing the linguistic reference.

Importantly, perceiving and following the gaze cue did not prove costly in terms of cognitive effort, unless the cued object did not fit the verb selectional preferences.