Reading expectations: How expectations influence our reading, eye movements, opinions, and judgments

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis (monograph)


The way we view the world is constantly affected by our expectations. The aim of this book is to determine how expectations affect the way we read. This will help us better understand how we process information, and how our expectations may change the way we read. The research is situated in experimental pragmatics and reading research. Instructions, headlines, and semantic incongruities are used to manipulate and contradict what people expect from what they read, revealing how their “default settings” operate. The methods of investigation are eye tracking, to measure people’s eye movements during reading, and self-reports of opinions and judgments.

This book presents a series of studies. It was found that when people expect to read about controversial topics, they tend to retain their opinions after they read the texts, but not when they expect neutral topics. Also, when people expect to read positive or negative texts, they change their opinions in line with the expected bias of the text if they do not feel strongly about the topic. Further, it was found that when people have strong opinions regarding a topic, they read the text more thoroughly, but are not as interested in the conclusions compared to people with weak opinions. People with a higher degree of openness are more interested in reading conclusions of texts, and people with lower openness are less interested in them. However, for people with weak opinions about texts they expect to agree with, the opposite pattern was found. The subsequent studies were then based on the fact that people generally assume that text and sentences are free of errors. This assumption makes them sometimes fail to detect an incongruity, and instead see the word they expect to see. The semantic incongruities were created by substituting words with their antonyms—for example, good with bad. It was found that both successful and failed detection of semantic incongruities affect the reading process in texts and sentences expected to be free of errors, with people returning to the incongruent word with their eyes more frequently, and spending more time on it compared to the congruent (correct) version in both cases. This demonstrates the presence of language processing independent of awareness, and highlights its importance during reading. Finally, sentences expected to originate from “less-respected” news sources result in lower acceptability judgments compared to sentences expected to originate from “well-respected” news sources, even though they in actual fact are identical. Semantic incongruities, however, do not affect sentence judgments. People judge the language usage as being poorer when expecting sentences from “less-respected” news sources, and better when expecting sentences from “well-respected” news sources, but cannot specifically see the poor language usage in incongruent sentences unless they spend some time thinking about it.

In sum, the main take-home message is that expectations affect many aspects of the way people read. When reading an incongruent word in a text expected to be free of errors, people’s eye movements are affected even when they do not explicitly react to the error. When people with low openness read texts expected to agree with their opinions, their eye movements are affected. When reading about topics expected to be controversial, and when reading texts expected to have evaluative bias, people’s opinions are affected. Finally, when expecting sentences from less-respected or well-respected news sources, people judge the language usage as poorer in the sentences from less-respected news sources.


  • Alexander Strukelj
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Specific Languages


  • antonyms, cognitive linguistics, confirmation bias, expectations, experimental pragmatics, eye movements: reading, eye tracking, headlines, implicit and explicit detection of incongruities, myside bias, opinion shift, paragraph reading, processing, reading, sentence judgment, visual analog scale
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Supervisors/Assistant supervisor
Award date2018 Jun 1
Place of PublicationLund
  • Centre for Languages and Literature, Lund University
Print ISBNs978-91-88473-72-1
Publication statusPublished - 2018
Publication categoryResearch

Bibliographic note

Defence details Date: 2018-06-01 Time: 13:15 Place: C121, LUX, Helgonavägen 3, Lund External reviewer(s) Name: Wengelin, Åsa Title: docent Affiliation: Göteborgs universitet ---

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