Gerry Altmann



  • University of Sussex
    BSc in Experimental Psychology
  • University of Edinburgh
    PhD in Artificial Intelligence

Graduated from Sussex (in Experimental Psychology), and competed his PhD on sentence processing as part of the Cognitive Science program at Edinburgh. After 4 years postdoctoral research on spoken word recognition, he moved to a lectureship at Sussex before joining York in 1996. His research interests include sentence processing, ambiguity resolution, eye movements during reading and listening, and the implicit learning of grammatical information. He teaches on the Masters-level course Research Design and Statistics, and offers an advanced course on psycholinguistics (with Silvia Gennari).


  • University of Sussex
  • University of York
    Professor (1996 - )



My current research is split between the relationship between language and vision, and the representation of events and, specifically, the cognitive and behavioural consequences of having to represent the same object in different ('before' and 'after) states.

In respect of the language-mediation of eye movements, if you show someone a scene depicting various people/objects, and they simultaneously hear a sentence describing something that may happen (e.g. 'the man will ride the motorbike'), the eyes start to look at the motorbike during the verb 'ride' they look towards whatever is most plausibly ridden by the man (so they won't look so much towards a child's scooter if there is one in the scene, even though it is technically rideable). It turns out that you get these same 'language-mediated' eye movements even when the scene to which the sentence refers is absent. So if you take the scene away before the person hears the sentence, the eyes look towards where the motorbike had been. There are, broadly, two aspects to this research: The first focuses primarily on what we can learn about language processing (specifically, the recruitment of different kinds of information as a sentence unfolds in time); the second focuses more on visual attention, and on the interpretation and mental representations of visual scenes that support eye movements.

In respect of event representation, we are interested in how we represent the 'before' and 'after' version of the acorn in "the squirrel will crack the acorn. And then it will lick it" or "the squirrel will crack the acorn. But first it will lick it". Some of this work is collaborative with others who know a lot more about fMRI than I do. We have found evidence that these distinct representations compete with one another, and we are currently exploring the behavioural consequences of such competition (the evidence for which comes from fMRI studies).

psycholinguistics; sentence processing; language-mediated eye movements; artificial grammar learning; computational modelling.

Research group(s)

Psycholinguistics Research Group


My current funding is from The Wellcome Trust, with further funding from ESRC due to start late 2008. Previous funding has included grants from The Medical Research Council (MRC), The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), The Wellcome Trust, The Royal Society, and others.


  • Silvia Gennari (University of York)
    interpretation of visual scenes in respect of event structures
  • Yuki Kamide (University of Dundee)
    sentence intepretation
  • Sharon Thompson-Schill (University of Pennsylvania)
    fMRI studies of event and object representation, and competition.
  • Richard Gale (York District Hospital)
    clinical application of language-mediated eye movements in patients with visual impairment


  • Xin Kang


Selected publications

  • Hindy, N.C., Altmann, G.T.M., Kalenik, E., & Thomspon-Schill, S.L. (2012). The effect of object-state changes on event processing: Do objects compete with themselves? The Journal of Neuroscience, 32(17), 5795–5803.
  • Salverda, A.P., & Altmann, G.T.M. (2011). Attentional capture of objects referred to by spoken language. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance. 37, 1122–1133.
  • Altmann, G.T.M. and Mirkovic, J. (2009). Incrementality and prediction in human sentence processing. Cognitive Science, 33, 583-609.
  • Altmann, G.T.M. and Kamide, Y. (2009). Discourse-mediation of the mapping between language and the visual world: eye-movements and mental representation. Cognition
  • Altmann, G.T.M. and Kamide, Y. (2007). The real-time mediation of visual attention by language and world knowledge: Linking anticipatory (and other) eye movements to linguistic processing.Journal of Memory and Language, 57, 502-518.

Full publications list

This is just a selection of papers (and one book) that give a flavour of my research.



  • The Language Machine: from Sentences to Meaning


  • Research Design and Statistics

The Research Design and Statistics course is the same as the Quantitative Research Methods course except for a tutorial component.

External activities


  • Experimental Psychology Society (Honorary Secretary 2004-2007)
  • Psychonomics Society

Editorial duties

  • Editor-in-Chief, Cognition.
  • Editorial board member: Cognitiva; Language and Cognitive Processes;
  • Journal of Memory and Language


Contact details

Prof. Gerry Altmann
Department of Psychology
Room PS/C227

Tel: 01904 324362