Words from the wizarding world: fictional words, context and domain knowledge

Joanne Ingram*, Christopher J. Hand

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)
380 Downloads (Pure)


The influence of domain knowledge on reading behavior has received limited investigation compared to the influence of, for example, context and/or word frequency. The current study tested participants with and without domain knowledge of the Harry Potter (HP) universe. Fans and non-fans read sentences containing HP, high-frequency (HF), or low-frequency target-words. Targets were presented in contexts that were supportive or unsupportive within a 2 (group: fans, non-fans) × 3 (context: HP, HF, LF) × 3 (word type: HP, HF, LF) mixed design. Thirty-two fans and 22 non-fans read 72 two-sentence experimental items while eye-movement behavior was recorded: Initial sentences established context; second sentences contained target-words. Fans processed HP words faster than non-fans. No group difference was observed on HF or LF processing durations, suggesting equivalent reading capabilities. In HP contexts, HP and LF targets were processed equivalently. Processing of HF and LF words was facilitated by their supportive context as expected. Non-fans made more regressions into the target region in HP contexts and regressed more into HP targets than other targets; fans regressed into target word regions equivalently across all context and word types. Results suggest that domain knowledge influences early but not immediate lexical access, while the processing effect of novelty was seen in regressive eye movements. These results are more supportive of modular accounts of linguistic processing and serial models of eye movement control. Words without grounding in reality, or true embodiment, were integrated into fans’ mental lexicons.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2179-2192
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition
Issue number11
Early online date6 Aug 2020
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2020


  • Harry Potter
  • domain knowledge
  • fiction
  • eye movements
  • context

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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