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What goes on in your mind as you speak and understand? My research aims to understand the cognitive processes behind language. In particular, I am interested in how we use language in context. As listeners, we have to contend with the fact that language is ambiguous, noisy, and by itself is insufficient to fully determine the speaker’s meaning. This means we need to pull together information from different sources — speech, gestures, inferences from the context, judgments about the speaker’s mental state, and world knowledge. I want to know how we do this and how quickly. As speakers, we make hundreds of choices every time we open our mouth. What information guides these choices?

In a current NSF-funded project, I am testing how statistical learning guides pronoun comprehension. Do people keep track of the regularities in discourse structure and use this to facilitate pronoun comprehension? For example, speakers tend to frequently re-mention grammatical subjects.  We find that they do, showing that adaptation occurs at the discourse level. But they only learn from some patterns, which sheds light on how our discourse processing system develops.

In another NSF-funded project, I am testing how pronoun comprehension is guided by gestures and individual differences, and testing whether predictability explains all of these effects. Other ongoing research interests include understanding the use and comprehension of singular they, how speakers choose between pronouns and more explicit expressions, or how disfluency guides comprehension.

My primary appointment is in the Cognitive Psychology program, but I also do some work on language development. Graduate students wishing to work in my lab may apply to either the Cognitive or Developmental programs. Members of under-represented minorities are especially encouraged to apply.


Selected Publications: Reference Comprehension

  • Arnold, J. E., Mayo, H., & Dong, L.  (2021). My pronouns are they/them: Talking about pronouns promotes singular they. Psychonomic Bulletin and Review.
  • Langlois, V., & Arnold, J. E. (2020). Print exposure explains individual differences in using syntactic but not semantic cues for pronoun comprehension. Cognition, 197.
  • Arnold, J. E., Strangmann, I., Hwang, H., Zerkle, S., & Nappa, R. (2018). Linguistic experience affects pronoun interpretation. Journal of Memory and Language, 102, 41-54. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jml.2018.05.002.
  • Nappa, R., & Arnold, J. E. (2014). The road to understanding is paved with the speaker’s intentions: Cues to the speaker’s attention and intentions affect pronoun comprehension. Cognitive Psychology, 70, 58–81 [VIDEOS OF STIMULI]
  • Arnold, J. E., Altmann, R., Fagnano, M., & Tanenhaus, M. K. (2004). The Old and Thee, uh, New. Psychological Science. 578-582.

Selected Publications: Reference Production

  • Arnold, J. E. & Zerkle, S. (2019). Why do people produce pronouns? Pragmatic selection vs. rational models. Journal of Language, Cognition, and Neuroscience.
  • Rosa, E. C., & Arnold, J. E. (2017). Predictability affects production: Thematic roles can affect reference form selection.  Journal of Memory and Language, 94, 43-60. DOI: 10.1016/j.jml.2016.07.007 [PREPRINT]; see also Arnold_TechReport1_2017
  • Arnold, J. E. & Watson, D. G. (2015). Synthesizing meaning and processing approaches to prosody: performance matters. Language, Cognition, and Neuroscience, 30, 88-102. doi: 10.1080/01690965.2013.840733
  • Arnold, J.E., Kahn, J. & Pancani, G. (2012). Audience Design Affects Acoustic Reduction Via Production Facilitation. Psychological Bulletin and Review, 19, 505-512. [VIDEO]

Selected Publications: Language Development

  • Arnold, J. E., Castro-Schilo, L., Zerkle, S., & Rao, L. (2019). Print exposure predicts pronoun comprehension strategies in children. Journal of Child Language.
  • Arnold, J. E., Bennetto, L., & Diehl, J. J. (2009). Reference production in young speakers with and without autism: Effects of discourse status and processing constraints. Cognition, 110(2), 131-146. doi:10.1016/j.cognition.2008.10.016
  • Arnold, J. E., Brown-Schmidt, S., & Trueswell, J. (2007). Children’s use of gender and order-of-mention during pronoun comprehension. Language and Cognitive Processes, 22(4), 527-565. doi:10.1080/01690960600845950

Experimental Materials