Models of Understanding Text

Models of Understanding Text

Models of Understanding Text

Models of Understanding Text


What is text understanding?
It is the dynamic process of constructing coherent representations and inferences at multiple levels of text and context, within the bottleneck of a limited-capacity working memory.

The field of text and discourse has advanced to the point where researchers have developed sophisticated models of comprehension, and identified the particular assumptions that underlie comprehension mechanisms in precise analytical or mathematical detail. The models offer a priori predictions about thought and behavior, not merely ad hoc descriptions of data. Indeed, the field has evolved to a mature science.

The contributors to this volume collectively cover the major models of comprehension in the field of text and discourse. Other books are either narrow -- covering only a single theoretical framework -- or do not focus on systematic modeling efforts. In addition, this book focuses on deep levels of understanding rather than language codes, syntax, and other shallower levels of text analysis. As such, it provides readers with up-to-date information on current psychological models specified in quantitative or analytical detail.


The field of text and discourse processing has matured dramatically during the last 20 years, spawning approximately 20 new journals and 10 new societies. As researchers have dissected the different levels of text analysis (i.e., surface structure, semantics, pragmatics, rhetorical organization, world knowledge, the referential situation model), they have accumulated an impressive body of empirical findings. They have achieved a more explicit and detailed understanding of the representations at each level, as well as the cognitive processes that are involved in the construction of these representations. The intricacies of some of these levels (e.g., pragmatics, world knowledge, and the situation model) were quite mysterious 20 years ago, and, thus, most researchers avoided these levels. Fortunately, however, enough researchers have cultivated interests at each level for a balanced perspective on comprehension mechanisms to evolve.

One sign of progress in a field is the emergence of sophisticated theoretical models that are supported by empirical data. A sophisticated model has an explicit declaration of its assumptions about representations and cognitive processes. Ideally, these assumptions are articulated with analytical and quantitative precision. A sophisticated model furnishes clear-cut predictions that can be falsified when submitted to empirical tests. The contributors to this volume have developed models of text comprehension. They have also tested the validity of these models by collecting data from comprehenders either during comprehension or after comprehension is completed.

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