FREE Virtual Study Fair | 1 - 2 March | REGISTER NOW FREE Virtual Study Fair | 1 - 2 March | REGISTER NOW

How do older people read words of out order? Understanding ageing effects on “noisy channel” language processing

   Department of Neuroscience, Psychology and Behaviour

This project is no longer listed on and may not be available.

Click here to search for PhD studentship opportunities
  Dr V McGowan, Prof K Paterson  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project


Readers often fail to notice when words are missing or presented of out order, such as we presented the words “out” and “of” in the wrong order in this sentence. Such effects suggest that the language processing system can deal robustly with degraded (i.e., imperfect) input. This poses a challenge to current computational models of reading that are not equipped to deal with degraded input. However, such effects may be explained by more recent “noisy-channel” models that make use of a reader’s knowledge or expectations to resolve imperfections in the linguistic input.  

For example, this might mean that readers use their knowledge about word order to determine that a sentence fragment like “presented out of order” is more likely than “presented of out order”, and so perceive the sentence as the former. However, few studies have directly examined whether the noisy-channel theory can be applied to the failure to notice errors during reading. 

One further issue that is under-investigated concerns whether this noisy channel processing changes with age. Ageing is associated with visual and cognitive declines (i.e., poorer acuity and slower processing speeds). However, for most people it is also associated with increased exposure to language, which might lead older people to have better language knowledge and stronger linguistic expectations. An important question, therefore, is whether the language processing system adapts in older age to reply more on linguistic expectations to compensate for lower-quality visual input and slower processing. 

The aim of the project is therefore twofold: (1) to investigate the cognitive mechanisms that allow us to understand sentences with repeated or omitted words, or words written out of word; (2) to investigate whether this capacity to deal with erroneous linguistic input changes as a function of age and reading experience.  


We can investigate these questions using a combination of online experiments, which enable us to obtain data from many participants quickly and effectively, and more focused laboratory-based experiments using eye movement recordings to provide more detailed insights into the cognitive processes that underpin reading comprehension. 

The participants in these experiments will be a combination of young adults (aged 18-30 years), typically recruited from the University, older adults (aged 65+ years), and potentially a broader community sample to allow us to investigate effects of reading experience on noisy channel inferences in reading. 

Techniques that will be undertaken during the project:

  • Programming of online and eye tracking experiments
  • Eye movement recordings during reading
  • Creation of stimuli
  • Complex statistical analysis using R

BBSRC Strategic Research Priority: Understanding the Rules of Life - Neuroscience and behaviour

Integrated Understanding of Health - Ageing


Start date: 25 September 2023

Entry requirements

  • Those who have a 1st or a 2.1 undergraduate degree in a relevant field are eligible.
  • Evidence of quantitative training is required. For example, AS or A level Maths, IB Standard or Higher Maths, or university level maths/statistics course.
  • Those who have a 2.2 and an additional Masters degree in a relevant field may be eligible.
  • Those who have a 2.2 and at least three years post-graduate experience in a relevant field may be eligible.
  • Those with degrees abroad (perhaps as well as postgraduate experience) may be eligible if their qualifications are deemed equivalent to any of the above.
  • University English language requirements apply

To apply

Carefully read the application advice on our website and submit your PhD application and MIBTP funding form.

Funding Notes

All MIBTP students will be provided with a 4 years studentship.
Studentships include:
• Tuition fees at the UK fee rate*
• a tax free stipend which for 2022/3 was £17,668 (2023/24 stipend to be confirmed)
• a travel allowance in year 1
• a travel/conference budget
• a generous consumables budget
• use of a laptop for the duration of the programme.
* International students are welcome to apply but applicants must be able to fund the difference between UK and International fees for the duration of their studies.


Huang, K., & Staub, A. (2021). Why do readers fail to notice word transpositions, omissions, and repetitions? A review of recent evidence and theory. Language and Linguistics Compass, 15, e12434.
Liu, Z., Li, Y., Cutter, M., Paterson, K.B., & Wang, J. (2022). A transposed-word effect across space and time: Evidence from Chinese. Cognition, 218, 104922.
Mirault, J., Snell, J., & Grainger, J. (2018). You that read wrong again! A transposed-word effect in grammaticality judgements. Psychological Science, 29, 1922-1929.
PhD saved successfully
View saved PhDs