Prediction is All You Need: A Large-Scale Study of the Effects of Word Frequency and Predictability in Naturalistic Reading
A number of psycholinguistic studies have factorially manipulated words’ contextual predictabilities and corpus frequencies and shown separable effects of each on measures of human sentence processing, a pattern which has been used to support distinct processing effects of prediction on the one hand and strength of memory representation on the other. This paper examines the generalizability of this finding to more realistic conditions of sentence processing by studying effects of frequency and predictability in three large-scale naturalistic reading corpora. Results show significant effects of word frequency and predictability in isolation but no effect of frequency over and above predictability, and thus do not provide evidence of distinct effects. The non-replication of separable effects in a naturalistic setting raises doubts about the existence of such a distinction in everyday sentence comprehension. Instead, these results are consistent with previous claims that apparent effects of frequency are underlyingly effects of predictability.