GERNSBACHER, M.A., HARGREAVES, D., & BEEMAN, M. (1989). Building and accessing clausal representations: The advantage of first mention versus the advantage of clause recency. Journal of Memory and Language, 28, 735-755.
We investigated two seemingly contradictory phenomena: the Advantage of the First-Mentioned Participant (participants mentioned first in a sentence are more accessible than participants mentioned second) and the Advantage of the Most Recent Clause (concepts mentioned in the most recent clause are more accessible than concepts mentioned in an earlier clause). We resolved this contradiction by measuring how quickly comprehenders accessed participants mentioned in the first versus second clauses of two-clause sentences. Our data supported the following hypotheses: Comprehenders represent each clause of a two-clause sentence in its own mental substructure. Comprehenders have greatest access to information in the substructure that they are currently developing, that is, they have greatest access to the most recent clause. However, at some point, the first clause becomes more accessible because the substructure representing the first clause of a two-clause sentence serves as a foundation for the whole sentence-level representation.