University of Rochester

Michael K. Tanenhaus

Research Overview

My research focuses on the mechanisms underlying real-time spoken language and reading comprehension. As we are listening or reading, we develop interpretations without waiting until the ends of words, phrases or sentences. This process requires continuous coordination of different types of linguistic and non-linguistic information. Moreover, the sequential nature of the input means that numerous temporary ambiguities routinely arise.

Much of my recent research uses ambiguity resolution as a vehicle for examining how information is coordinated during real-time language processing, addressing questions such as: (a) how is information from different linguistic subsystems represented, accessed, and combined; (b) how are linguistic and conceptual representations integrated and how do they interact during processing; (c) to what extent is language processing accomplished by specialized modules that operate according to principles unique to language (as contrasted with more general principles of information integration common to other perceptual and cognitive domains). A particular focus of this work has been on lexical representation and processing within a constraint-based framework. My research examining this issues makes use of a variety of experimental methods as well as computational models.

Most recently, my students and I have been using a lightweight head-mounted eye-tracker to monitor subjects' eye-movements as they follow spoken instructions to manipulate real objects (e.g., Put the candle that's on the towel into the box). Eye-movements to the objects are precisely time-locked to relevant information in the instruction as it unfolds, making it possible to study the comprehension of spoken language in real-time with natural tasks in real-world contexts. We are applying this methodology to a range of issues in spoken word recognition, syntactic and semantic processing, and discourse comprehension.

Research Collaborators

James F. Allen, Dept. of Computer Science, University of Rochester
Jennifer E. Arnold, Dept of Psychology, University of N. Carolina, Chapel Hill
Richard N. Aslin, Dept of Brain & Cognitive Sciences, University of Rochester
Sarah Brown-Schmidt, Beckman Institute, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Greg N. Carlson, Dept. of Linguistics, University of Rochester
Delphine Dahan, Dept. of Psychology, University of Pennsylvania
Christine Q. Gunlogson, Dept. of Linguistics, University of Rochester
Mary Hare, Dept of Psychology, Bowling Green State University
James S. Magnuson, Dept. of Psychology, University of Connecticut
Joyce M. McDonough, Dept. of Linguistics, University of Rochester
Bob McMurray, Dept of Psychology, University of Iowa
Ken McRae, Dept of Psychology, University of Western Ontario
Jeffrey T. Runner, Dept. of Linguistics, University of Rochester
Duane Watson, Dept. of Psychology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Research Support

The National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation have supported this research.

Current Students

Graduate Students

Meredith Brown

Whitney Gegg-Harrison