On doing two things at once: Temporal constraints on actions in language comprehension

Manuel De Vega, David A. Robertson, Arthur M. Glenberg, Michael P. Kaschak, Mike Rinck

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

52 Scopus citations


In two experiments, we investigated how text comprehension is influenced by the interaction between the properties of actions and the temporal relations specified by adverbs. Participants read short narratives describing a protagonist who performed two actions that involved similar sensorimotor systems (e.g., chopping wood and painting a fence) or different ones (e.g., whistling a melody and painting a fence). The actions were described as simultaneous or successive by means of the temporal adverbs while and after, respectively. Comprehension, both in Spanish and in English, was markedly impaired (longer reading times and lower subjective coherence) for sentences including the adverb while and actions involving the same sensorimotor system. However, when one of the same sensorimotor system actions was described as a mental plan (e.g., chopping wood and thinking of painting a fence), comprehension was equally easy with the adverbs while and after. These results are compatible with a revised version of the indexical hypothesis that specifies how comprehension is guided by syntax and embodied constraints within multiple noninteracting mental spaces.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1033-1043
Number of pages11
JournalMemory and Cognition
Issue number7
StatePublished - Oct 2004
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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