Effects of animacy on processing relative clauses in older and younger adults

Gayle DeDe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Sentences with object relative clauses are more difficult to process than sentences with subject relative clauses, but the processing penalty associated with object relatives is greater when the sentential subject is an animate than when it is an inanimate noun. The present study tested the hypothesis that older adults are more sensitive to this type of semantic constraint than younger adults. Older and younger adults (n = 28 per group) participated in a self-paced listening study. The critical sentences contained subject and object relative clauses and had animate or inanimate subjects. Both older and younger adults had longer listening times for critical segments in object than in subject relative clause in both animacy conditions. Critically, the animacy manipulation disrupted older adults more than younger adults. These results are consistent with the claim that older adults rely on experience-based expectations to a greater extent than younger adults.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)487-498
Number of pages12
JournalQuarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 4 2015


  • Ageing
  • Animacy
  • Constraint satisfaction
  • Risky strategy hypothesis
  • Sentence comprehension

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Psychology(all)
  • Physiology (medical)


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