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Eye Tracking Experiment Provides Evidences for the Cognitive Mechanism of Ancient Chinese Poetry Reading

Of all literary forms, poetry is the one with the longest history and widest circulation. Ancient Chinese poetry has become one of the most basic cultural “genes” of the Chinese. Based on the typical characteristics of Chinese ancient poetry, Nanjing Normal University’s researchers adopted eye-tracking technology to explore the “genes” of traditional Chinese culture by investigating the cognitive mechanism underlying the understanding of rhyme and semantic processing during the reading of ancient Chinese poems.

The paper “Eye Tracking Experiment Provides Evidences for the Cognitive Mechanism of Ancient Chinese Poetry Reading” was published in 2017 the third issue of Social Sciences in China in the form of long experimental report (29 pages in total).

Findings showed the significant effect of rhyme throughout the reading of poem lines. In other words, at the early stage the rhyming rules were activated rapidly and then affected first psss eye movement measures. Abnormal rhyming hindered poem reading and significantly increased participants’ first fixation duration and gaze duration. In the late stage there was an interaction between rhyming and semantic plausibility. The rhyme scheme constrained the understanding of the poem’s semantics. When the rhyming was acceptable, the eye movement measures including total fixation duration, total fixation number, and rereading time were significantly reduced for the pome lines with plausible semantics. However, the semantic facilitation was disappeared during the reading of pome lines with unacceptable rhyming, This means that in ancient poem  reading, the Chinese readers expect a language with harmonious tone patterns and consonance of form and meaning. Research along these lines can provide an initial approach to the exploration of discourse processing mechanisms in the context of traditional Chinese culture.

Qingrong Chen, the associate professor of the School of Psychology at NNU, is the first author of this paper. Meanwhile, Professor Yiming Yang (Distinguished Professor of Yangtze River Scholar, professor of the School of Language Science and Art, Jiangsu Normal University, professor of the Synergy Innovation Center of Language Proficiency in Universities of Jiangsu, College postdoctoral tutor of NNU) is also one of the authors.

About the study, Prof. Chen said, “Traditional Chinese culture is where the Chinese nation’s essence and spirit originate from, and we should treat excellent traditional Chinese culture in a scientific way. Its singularity and uniqueness shall be clarified to improve our culture confidence. The experimental paradigm, scientific cognitive technology and accelerated experience during the process will contribute to the further scientific study of traditional Chinese culture.”

“The study of the cognitive mechanism of ancient poetry is a preliminary exploration of the discourse processing mechanism in the context of traditional Chinese culture, which belongs to the part of the “genes” research project of traditional culture.”

Based on cross-sectional and longitudinal research paradigm, associate Prof. Chen and his team are now still using eye tracking, neural electrophysiology, and functional magnetic resonance imaging technology to perform systematic in-depth scientific researches on the “genes” of traditional Chinese culture among Chinese adults and children.

This research is supported by, in part, by a grant from the 973 project and the National Natural Science Foundation.