Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Assessing the Influence of Dimensional Focus during Situation Model Construction

Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Assessing the Influence of Dimensional Focus during Situation Model Construction

Article excerpt

According to Zwaan, Langston, and Graesser's (1995) event-indexing model, when comprehending text, readers monitor changes in a series of critical dimensions: space, time, protagonist, causality, and intentionality. In this study, the influence of dimensional focus was assessed during situation-model construction. Participants read narratives and were instructed to specifically monitor a single dimension while their sentence reading times were recorded. Critical sentence reading times were then analyzed for all shift types. Results support the general prediction that at least the time and protagonist dimensions are resistant to task demands, demonstrating that comprehenders routinely perform dimensional updating processes that are context independent. These results are discussed in the context of the event-indexing model.

An important goal in research on discourse comprehension is identifying which textual elements are attended to and represented in memory. Consider the following example paragraph and its concluding sentence.

Paul took care of the garden, which he had declared his territory, whereas Frieda started to tidy up the house. The morning air was pleasant and refreshing, so she opened all the windows and let spring reach every corner of the house. Then, in a spirit of adventure, she climbed up to the attic. There she searched old boxes and shaky cupboards, and she checked for mice. At noon, she cleaned the winter dust out of the hall and tidied up her beloved cabinet. The noon sun was quite warm already, so she interrupted this work for some time while she closed all the windows to keep the house pleasantly cool, hi the last daylight, Paul stood in the garden and looked around satisfied.

The final sentence of this paragraph is difficult for readers to integrate but certainly understandable. It includes shifts in the character, location, and tune course from the previous sentence: It contains information about Paul, who is in the garden in the evening, whereas the previous sentence is about Frieda, who is in the house at noon. What might go on in readers' minds when they encounter these various shift types? In the above example, the reader will have to update time, space, and protagonist information in his or her situation model (Zwaan, Langston, & Graesser, 1995; Zwaan & Radvansky, 1998; Zwaan, Radvansky, Hilliard, & Curiel, 1998). The question of interest here is whether comprehenders routinely perform these updating processes or whether they are context dependent.

We conceptualize a situation model as a complex mental representation of the state of affairs of a text (Zwaan & Radvansky, 1998). This representation includes information from the text as well as from the reader's background knowledge (Graesser, Singer, & Trabasso, 1994). One theory of situation model construction, the event-indexing model (Zwaan, Langston, & Graesser, 1995), posits that readers are sensitive to information in the story world at the event level. Readers monitor a series of specific dimensions when attending to events in narrative text. These dimensions are space (location), time (sequence and duration), protagonist (entities and objects), causality (cause and effect), and intentionality (goals and motivation). Typically, events are understood in text as verb phrases because verbs are semantically and situationally rich and often signal state change (Zwaan, Langston, & Graesser, 1995). Thus, readers progress through narrative text indexing each action or event, usually triggered by a verb, along the five dimensions and store these events in memory on the basis of their dimensional relatedness (Zwaan, Langston, & Graesser, 1995).

The event-indexing model presents two general hypotheses regarding the representations formed when reading: the memory organization hypothesis and the processing load hypothesis. The memory organization hypothesis states that the more dimensional indices that two events share, the more strongly those events will be associated in memory. …

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