How WM Load Influences Linguistic Processing in Adults: A Computational Model of Pronoun Interpretation in Discourse

Jacolien van Rij*, Hedderik van Rijn, Petra Hendriks

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

26 Citations (Scopus)


This paper presents a study of the effect of working memory load on the interpretation of pronouns in different discourse contexts: stories with and without a topic shift. We discuss a computational model (in ACT-R, Anderson, 2007) to explain how referring expressions are acquired and used. On the basis of simulations of this model, it is predicted that WM constraints only affect adults' pronoun resolution in stories with a topic shift, but not in stories without a topic shift. This latter prediction was tested in an experiment. The results of this experiment confirm that WM load reduces adults' sensitivity to discourse cues signaling a topic shift, thus influencing their interpretation of subsequent pronouns.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)564-580
Number of pages17
JournalTopics in Cognitive Science
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jul-2013


  • Working memory load
  • Language processing
  • Cognitive modeling
  • Pronouns

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