Dr Steven Frisson PhD

School of Psychology

Contact details

School of Psychology
University of Birmingham
B15 2TT


  • BA/MA University of Leuven (Belgium)
  • PhD University of Antwerp (Belgium)


  • Born: Genk (Belgium)
  • UG/PG: University of Antwerp & University of Leuven (Belgium)
  • PhD: University of Antwerp. For my PhD, I spent 3 years as a fellow of the Belgian Science Foundation at the University of Glasgow, under the guidance of Martin Pickering.
  • Postdocs: As a fellow of the BSF, I spent 2 years at Umass, working with Keith Rayner, Lyn Frazier, Sandy Pollatsek, and Chuck Clifton. I then moved to New York City (NYU), where I worked in Brian McElree’s lab.
  • I moved to Birmingham in 2005.

Postgraduate supervision

  • Chloé Corcoran (PhD candidate): Reading & Stuttering
  • Helena Conde (PhD candidate): Figurative Language in People with Psychosis

In addition, I supervise several MRes students every year on projects that involve eye-tracking. Students can either choose a topic or propose one themselves and, if possible, we will design an experiment around one’s own preferences. For example, at present I’m supervising a project on reading span in Arabic adults learning English as a foreign language, which was proposed by a student.


My main area of interest is semantic processing. In particular, I'm interested in finding out how language users arrive at an interpretation of a word in context. While this seems like a very straightforward thing to do, especially since most of us do not experience much difficulty in comprehending natural language, it is in fact a remarkably complex process that involves decisions and interactions at many different levels.

For example, most words have many different interpretations (e.g., school can refer to a place or to an institution; Dickens can refer to a person or to his writings). How do we pick out the right one upon encountering these words? How and when do we integrate a word's meaning in the larger syntactic and semantic context? How do we get to a novel interpretation of a word? Is processing influenced by statistical properties between words? In order to investigate these, and related, questions, I mainly use the eye-tracking methodology as it allows us to detect what portions in a text require more cognitive effort to understand.

I also use eye-tracking to investigate a whole host of different questions. For example: 

  • orthographic and phonological overlap effects in reading, in collaboration with Keith Rayner & Nathalie Béranger (UCSD) and Linda Wheeldon (Birmingham) 
  • Theory of Mind processing, in collaboration with Ian Apperly (Birmingham) and Elisa Back (Kingston)
  • semantic processing in ASD children, in collaboration with Joe McCleery (Birmingham)
  • figurative language processing in people with psychosis, in collaboration with Helena Conde (PhD candidate, Birmingham)
  • reading processes in people who stutter, in collaboration with Chloé Corcoran (PhD candidate, Birmingham)
  • coercion processes in reading, in collaboration with Brian McElree (NYU) and Martin Pickering (Edinburgh)
  • predictability in sentence processing, in collaboration with Denis Drieghe (Southampton) and Adran Staub (Umass)


(please contact me for reprints)

Frisson, S., & Wakefield, M. (2012). Psychological essentialist reasoning and perspective taking during reading: A donkey is not a zebra, but a plate can be a clock. Memory & Cognition, 40, 297-310.

Frisson, S., Pickering, M. J, & McElree, B. (2011). The difficult mountain: Enriched composition in adjective-noun phrases. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 18, 1172-1179.

Ganushchak, L., Krott, A., Frisson, S., & Meyer, A. (2011). Processing words and SMS shortcuts in sentential contexts: An eye movement study. Applied Psycholinguistics. Firstview Article, 1-17.

Bott, L., Frisson, S., & Murphy, G. L. (2009). Interpreting conjunctions. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 4, 681-706.

Frisson, S. (2009). Semantic underspecification in language processing. Language and Linguistic Compass, 3, 111-127.

Frisson, S., & McElree, B. (2008). Complement coercion is not modulated by competition: Evidence from eye movements. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 34, 1-11.

Frisson, S., Niswander-Klement, E., & Pollatsek, A. (2008). The role of semantic transparency in the processing of English compound words. British Journal of Psychology, 99, 87-107.

Harris, J., Pylkkanen, L., McElree, B., & Frisson, S. (2008). The cost of question concealment: Eye-tracking and MEG evidence. Brain and Language, 107, 44-61.

Frisson, S., & Pickering, M. J. (2007). The processing of familiar and novel senses of a word: Why reading Dickens is easy but reading Needham can be hard. Language and Cognitive Processes, 22, 595-613.

Pickering, M. J., McElree, B., Frisson, S., Chen, L., & Traxler, M. (2006). Aspectual coercion and underspecification. Discourse Processes, 42, 131-155.

McElree, B., Frisson, S., & Pickering, M. J. (2006). Deferred interpretations: Why starting Dickens is taxing but reading Dickens isn’t. Cognitive Science, 30, 115-124.

Frisson, S., Rayner, K., & Pickering, M. J. (2005). Effects of contextual predictability and transitional probability on eye movements. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 31, 862-877.

Frisson, S., & Frazier, L. (2005). Carving up word meaning: Portioning and grinding. Journal of Memory and Language, 53, 277-291.

Sandra, D., Frisson, S, & Daems, F. (2004). Still errors after all those years: Limited attentional resources and homophone frequency account for spelling errors on silent verb suffixes in Dutch. Written Language & Literacy, 7, 61-77.

Frisson, S. & Sandra, D. (2002). Determinanten van werkwoordfouten in de Nederlandse spelling: Een experimenteel onderzoek bij ervaren spellers en kinderen. [Determining factors of spelling errors to Dutch verbs: An experimental investigation of proficient spellers and children]. Nederlandse Taalkunde. 7, 127-141.

Frisson, S. & Sandra, D. (2002) Homophonic forms of regularly inflected verbs have their own orthographic representations: A developmental perspective on spelling errors. Brain and Language, 81 (1, 2&3), 545-554.

Sandra, D., Brysbaert, M., Frisson, S., & Daems, F. (2001). Paradoxen van de Nederlandse werkwoordspelling: Een confrontatie tussen taalkundige logica, problemen voor spellers en bruikbaarheid voor lezers, De Psycholoog, 36 (6), 282-287. [Paradoxes of the Dutch verb spelling: A confrontation between linguistic logic, problems for spellers, and usability for readers.]

Frisson, S. & Pickering, M.J. (2001). Figurative language processing in the Underspecification Model. Metaphor and Symbol, 16 (3&4), 149-171.

Sandra, D., Daems, F., & Frisson, S. (2001). Zoveel helderheid en toch zoveel fouten: psycholinguïstisch onderzoek naar werkwoordfouten bij ervaren spellers en implicaties voor het onderwijs. Vonk, 3, 3-20. [So much clarity and still so many mistakes: Psycholinguistic research of spelling errors by adult spellers and implications for teaching.]

Pickering, M. J. & Frisson, S. (2001). Processing ambiguous verbs: Evidence from eye movements. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 27, 556-573.

Brisard, F., Frisson, S., & Sandra, D. (2001). Processing unfamiliar metaphors in a self-paced reading task. Metaphor and Symbol, 16(1&2), 87-108.

Frisson, S. & Pickering, M. J. (1999). The processing of Metonymy: Evidence from eye movements. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 25, 1366-1383.

Sandra, D., Frisson, S., & Daems, F. (1999) Why simple verbs can be so difficult to spell: The influence of homophone frequency and distance in Dutch. Brain and Language, 68, 277-283.

Frisson, S., Sandra, D., Brisard, F., Van Rillaer, G, & Cuyckens, H. (1998). Flexible semantic processing of spatial prepositions. Journal of Semantics, 15, 191-214.