Models of single-word reading are arguably the most well-specified models in cognitive psychology. But while we have a good understanding of the cognitive processes underlying reading, there is less systematic research about how the importance of these processes changes when we embed words in sentences.
There are two main differences between reading single words (presented in random order) and reading meaningful sentences. First, when words are embedded in sentences, the sentence context can be used as a cue to a word's identity, in addition to the cognitive processes which are described by models of single-word reading. Second, the cognitive system simultaneously processes some features of the surrounding words.
In a project with Claudio Mulatti and Robert Maier, we manipulated both the presence and absence of sentence context, and the presentation format, where words were presented either in isolation or with other words in the visual field. We wanted to see how these manipulations affect the word frequency and the length (number of letters) effect.
Schmalz, X., Treccani, B., & Mulatti, C. (2015). Distinguishing Target From Distractor in Stroop,
Picture–Word, and Word–Word Interference Tasks. Frontiers in Psychology, 6. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01858. Fulltext here.
When we read sentences, we need to focus on the word which is currently being processed while ignoring the surrounding words. Here, we draw from empirical findings of three experimental tasks to propose a model of how the cognitive system might achieve this.