Year of Publication

2002

Document Type

Dissertation

College

Arts and Sciences

Department

Psychology

First Advisor

Robert Lorch

Abstract

Two experiments were conducted that examined the effects of tangential information on readers' comprehension of explanatory texts. Participants were recruited from Introduction to Psychology courses. They were assigned to read one of three versions of a text (i.e., a base-text version, a base-text plus seductive details version or a base-text plus boring details version) about the process of lightning or the lifecycle of a white dwarf star. In Experiment 1, participants were told they had to write down everything they could remember from their passage when they finished reading. The base-text group recalled more of the core content than either of the other two groups. Lengthening a text by adding tangential information interfered with readers' ability to recall the information. More interestingly, the boring details group recalled more core content than the seductive details group. The degree of interestingness of the tangential information had an independent effect on readers' memory. Reading times were also recorded and analyzed. The seductive details group spent less time reading the core content of the passage than either the base-text and boring details groups, which did not differ. The presence of seductive details reduced the amount of attention readers allocated to processing the core content of the passage. In Experiment 2, readers were told that they had to verify whether or not certain sentences were presented in the passage they just finished reading. Reading times did not differ among the three groups. A post-hoc analysis of reading times across experiments revealed that participants in Experiment 1 spent more time processing the passages than those in Experiment 2. This suggests that changing the memory task from free-recall to a recognition-based task may have altered readers' online processing. In the sentence verification task, there was a tendency for participants who read a passage that included detail sentences to respond faster but less accurately. The presence of detail sentences lead readers to perform more poorly on identifying whether or not sentences were actually in the passage they read as compared to readers of the same passage without details.

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