Dr Steven Frisson PhD

Dr Steven Frisson

School of Psychology
Assistant Professor

Contact details

School of Psychology
University of Birmingham
B15 2TT

Dr Steven Frisson’s research focuses on the on-line processing of natural language, mainly using the eyetracking methodology. He has investigated language at many different levels of processing, from how language users exploit low-level information (orthography, phonology) to how pragmatics affects text interpretation. He has carried out research with different populations, including adolescents, people with dyslexia, people who stutter, children with ASD and elderly participants. Recent work (with Ole Jensen and Yali Pan, CHBH) employed MEG & eyetracking co-registration to understand how attention drives reading and how words are processed even before they are fixated. 


  • 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

I (co-)supervise the following PhD candidates:

  • James Blundell (completed 2016) – Cognitive assessment of paediatric neurodegenerative diseases
  • Helena Condé – Figurative language processing in people with psychosis
  • Chloé Corcoran – Stuttering and (silent) reading
  • Mahmoud Elsherif – The underlying shared mechanisms for silent reading in stutterers and people with dyslexia
  • Nayilah Mesfer Al-Qahtani – The role of morphological structure during word reading in Arabic/English bilinguals

In addition, I supervise several MRes projects each year, most of which involve eye movement research.


When I was an undergraduate student in linguistics, I always reverted back to the same question, often to the annoyance of my professors: But how do we know that this is what people do when they process language? Luckily I found some people who were asking the same question, and my drift into psycholinguistics began. When I then moved to Glasgow and saw all the cool equipment they had, my love for eye-tracking began. One of the great advantages of eye movement research is that it can measure processing as it happens, in a (relatively) normal environment. Since then, eye-tracking research has become much easier (and cheaper), and has proved its staying power in many different domains.

I’m still asking the same general question: how do people comprehend language? Over the years, I’ve approached this question at several different levels of processing, going from low-level visual input to high-level pragmatics, and I have had the great privilege to work with some absolutely outstanding researchers. In the vast majority of the cases, I use the eye-tracking methodology. Some examples:

  • Orthographic and phonological overlap effects in reading, in collaboration with the late Keith Rayner (UCSD), Nathalie Béranger (UCSD), Linda Wheeldon (Birmingham) and Andrew Olson (Birmingham);
  • Predictability in sentence processing, in collaboration with Adrian Staub (Umass) and David Harvey (Warwick);
  • Theory of Mind processing, in collaboration with Ian Apperly (Birmingham) and Elisa Back (Kingston)
  • Pragmatic effects in categorisation, in collaboration with Greg Murphy (NYU);
  • Coercion processes in reading, in collaboration with Brian McElree (NYU) and Martin Pickering (Edinburgh);
  • Figurative language processing, in collaboration with Lewis Bott (Cardiff) and Petra Schumacher (Cologne);
  • Semantic processing in ASD children, in collaboration with Joe McCleery (Birmingham)
  • Figurative language processing in people with psychosis, in collaboration with Helena Condé (PhD candidate, Birmingham);
  • reading processes in people who stutter, in collaboration with Chloé Corcoran (PhD candidate, Birmingham);
  • phonological processing in people who stutter and people with dyslexia, in collaboration with Mahmoud Elsherif (PhD candidate, Birmingham);

However, 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 interpretations? This has led to the idea that readers might activate semantically rather underspecified representations of words (for a summary, see Frisson, 2009). 

Lately I’ve become more and more interested in individual differences in reading, especially amongst adolescents. While we know a lot about how adults (or more specifically, undergraduate students in psychology departments) process language, we hardly know to what extent adolescents exhibit the same strategies and biases. This is surprising as level of literacy is one of the strongest predictors for a whole host of later achievements, and understanding what makes a good reader is, in my view, one of the most important aims for psycholinguists. 


Highlight publications

Jensen, O, Pan, Y, Frisson, S & Wang, L 2021, 'An oscillatory pipelining mechanism supporting reviewing during visual exploration and reading', Trends in Cognitive Sciences, vol. 25, no. 12, pp. 1033-1044. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tics.2021.08.008

Pan, Y, Frisson, S & Jensen, O 2021, 'Neural evidence for lexical parafoveal processing', Nature Communications, vol. 12, no. 1, 5234. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-021-25571-x

Elsherif, M, Wheeldon, L & Frisson, S 2021, 'Do dyslexia and stuttering share a processing deficit?', Journal of Fluency Disorders, vol. 67, 105827. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jfludis.2020.105827

Pelissier, M, Hauland, D, Handeland, B, Urland, BZ, Wetterlin, A, Wheeldon, L & Frisson, S 2022, 'Competition between form-related words in bilingual sentence reading: effects of language proficiency', Bilingualism: Language and Cognition. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1366728922000529

Elsherif, M, Wheeldon, L & Frisson, S 2021, 'Phonological precision for word recognition in skilled readers', Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, pp. 1-20. https://doi.org/10.1177/17470218211046350

Recent publications


Pan, Y, Frisson, S, Federmeier, KD & Jensen, O 2023, 'Early parafoveal semantic integration in natural reading', eLife. https://doi.org/10.7554/eLife.91327.1

Pan, Y, Popov, T, Frisson, S & Jensen, O 2023, 'Saccades are locked to the phase of alpha oscillations during natural reading', PLoS Biology, vol. 21, no. 1, e3001968. https://doi.org/10.1101/2022.04.10.487681, https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.3001968

Elsherif, MM, Frisson, S & Wheeldon, LR 2022, 'Orthographic precision for word naming in skilled readers', Language, Cognition and Neuroscience. https://doi.org/10.1080/23273798.2022.2108091

Bott, L & Frisson, S 2022, 'Salient alternatives facilitate implicatures', PLoS ONE, vol. 17, no. 3, e0265781. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0265781

Latham, K, Mann, DL, Dolan, R, Myint, J, Timmis, MA, Ryu, D, Frisson, S & Allen, PM 2021, 'Do visual fields need to be considered in classification criteria within visually impaired shooting?', Journal of Sports Sciences, vol. 39, no. sup1, pp. 150-158. https://doi.org/10.1080/02640414.2021.1911425

Elsherif, M, Catling, J & Frisson, S 2020, 'Two words as one: a multi-naming investigation of the age-of-acquisition effect in compound-word processing', Memory and Cognition, vol. 48, pp. 511-525. https://doi.org/10.3758/s13421-019-00986-6

Frisson, S & Murphy, G 2019, 'Maxim of quantity and presupposition in understanding object labels', Language, Cognition and Neuroscience. https://doi.org/10.1080/23273798.2019.1650193

Wang, JJ, Tseng, P, Juan, C, Frisson, S & Apperly, IA 2019, 'Perspective-taking across cultures: shared biases in Taiwanese and British adults', Royal Society Open Science, vol. 6, no. 11, 190540. https://doi.org/10.1098/rsos.190540

Blundell, J, Frisson, S, Chakrapani, A, Kearney, S, Vijay, S, MacDonald, A, Gissen, P, Hendriksz, C & Olson, A 2018, 'Markers of cognitive function in patients with metabolic disease: Morquio Syndrome and Tyrosinemia Type III', Cognitive Neuropsychology, vol. 35, no. 3-4, pp. 120-147. https://doi.org/10.1080/02643294.2018.1443913

Blundell, J, Frisson, S, Chakrapani, A, Gissen, P, Hendriksz, C, Vijay, S & Olson, A 2018, 'Oculomotor abnormalities in children with Niemann-Pick Type C', Molecular Genetics and Metabolism, vol. 123, no. 2, pp. 159-168. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ymgme.2017.11.004


Elsherif, MM, Catling, JC & Frisson, S 2022, 'Correction to: Two words as one: A multi-naming investigation of the age-of-acquisition effect in compound-word processing', Memory and Cognition. https://doi.org/10.3758/s13421-021-01231-9


Jensen, O, Pan, Y, Frisson, S & Wang, L 2021 'A pipelining mechanism supporting previewing during visual exploration and reading' bioRxiv. https://doi.org/10.1101/2021.03.25.436919

Pan, Y, Frisson, S & Jensen, O 2021 'Lexical parafoveal previewing predicts reading speed' bioRxiv. https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.10.05.326314

Elsherif, MM, Wheeldon, L & Frisson, S 2020 'Orthographic precision for word naming in skilled readers' PsyArXiv. https://doi.org/10.31234/osf.io/gpk9m

Elsherif, MM, Wheeldon, L & Frisson, S 2019 'Do dyslexia and stuttering share a phonological deficit?'. https://doi.org/10.31234/osf.io/grb54

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