Motor (but not auditory) attention affects syntactic choice
Understanding the determinants of syntactic choice in sentence production is a salient topic in psycholinguistics. Existing evidence suggests that syntactic choice results from an interplay between linguistic and non-linguistic factors, and a speaker’s attention to the elements of a described event represents one such factor. Whereas multimodal accounts of attention suggest a role for different modalities in this process, existing studies examining attention effects in syntactic choice are primarily based on visual cueing paradigms. Hence, it remains unclear whether attentional effects on syntactic choice are limited to the visual modality or are indeed more general. This issue is addressed by the current study. Native English participants viewed and described line drawings of simple transitive events while their attention was directed to the location of the agent or the patient of the depicted event by means of either an auditory (monaural beep) or a motor (unilateral key press) lateral cue. Our results show an effect of cue location, with participants producing more passive-voice descriptions in the patient-cued conditions. Crucially, this cue location effect emerged in the motor-cue but not (or substantially less so) in the auditory-cue condition, as confirmed by a reliable interaction between cue location (agent vs. patient) and cue type (auditory vs. motor). Our data suggest that attentional effects on the speaker’s syntactic choices are modality-specific and limited to the visual and motor, but not the auditory, domain.