Expectations modulate retrieval interference during ellipsis resolution


Memory operations during language comprehension are subject to interference: re-trieval is harder when items are linguistically similar to each other. We test how such interference effects might be modulated by linguistic expectations. Theories differ in how these factors might interact; we consider three possibilities: (i) predictability determines the need for retrieval, (ii) predictability affects cue-preference during retrieval, or (iii) word predictability moderates the effect of noise in memory during retrieval. We first demonstrate that expectations for a target word modulate retrieval interference in Mandarin noun-phrase ellipsis in an electroencephalography (EEG) experiment. This result obtains in globally ungrammatical sentences – termed “facilitatory interference.” Such a pattern is inconsistent with theories that focus only on the need for retrieval. To tease apart cue-preferences from noisy-memory repre-sentations, we operationalize the latter using a Transformer neural network language model. Confronting the model with our stimuli reveals an interference effect, consis-tent with prior work, but that effect does not interact with predictability in contrast to human EEG results. Together, these data are most consistent with the hypothesis that the predictability of target items affects cue-preferences during retrieval.