Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

An Examination of the Seductive Details Effect in Terms of Working Memory Capacity

Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

An Examination of the Seductive Details Effect in Terms of Working Memory Capacity

Article excerpt

Previous work on learning from text has demonstrated that although illustrated text can enhance comprehension, illustrations can also sometimes lead to poor learning outcomes when they are not relevant to understanding the text. This phenomenon is known as the seductive details effect. The first experiment was designed to test whether the ability to control one's attention, as measured by working memory span tasks, would influence the processing of a scientific text that contained seductive (irrelevant) images, conceptually relevant images, or no illustrations. Understanding was evaluated using both an essay response and an inference verification task. Results indicated that low working memory capacity readers are especially vulnerable to the seductive details effect. In the second experiment, this issue was explored further, using eye-tracking methodology to evaluate the reading patterns of individuals who differed in working memory capacity as they read the same seductively illustrated scientific text. Results indicated that low working memory individuals attend to seductive illustrations more often than not and, also, for a longer duration than do those individuals high in working memory capacity.

Within the past few decades, several theories have emerged in an attempt to account for the complex cognitive activity of text comprehension and learning from text (Goldman, 1997; Kintsch, 1988, 1998; Kintsch & van Dijk, 1978). With evermore frequency, it appears that such theories not only must take into account the static characteristics of a text (i.e., structure, cues, and presence of illustrations), but also must account for individual differences between readers (e.g., in terms of cognitive ability, motivation, or prior knowledge). In the present line of research, we examined one potential interaction between text and learner characteristics-namely, the effects of working memory capacity (WMC) on learning from illustrated text.

The Seductive Details Effect

Previous work on learning from text has demonstrated that although illustrated text can enhance learning (Balluerka, 1995; Mayer, 1994,1999; Mayer & Gallini, 1990), illustrations can also sometimes lead to poor learning outcomes. Within the text-processing literature, there exists a phenomenon known as the seductive details effect (Garner, Brown, Sanders, & Menke, 1992). The notion behind this seduction effect is that by adding additional, irrelevant information to a text, the comprehension of the text as a whole will be reduced (Harp & Mayer, 1997). In Harp and Mayer's (1997) study, a group of college undergraduates were given a descriptive text that (1) did not contain any seductive information, (2) contained seductive text, (3) contained seductive illustrations, or (4) contained both seductive text and illustrations. It was found that in terms of both recall and problem-solving performance, individuals in conditions that contained any type of seductive information (textual, visual, or both) performed significantly worse than individuals in the base text condition. Furthermore, the detriment in reading performance was accompanied by higher levels of emotional interest in the seductive conditions (Harp & Mayer, 1997). This reduction in performance and the enhancement of emotional interest has been replicated in several studies, using both scientific and narrative texts (Garner, Gillingham, & White, 1989; Harp & Mayer, 1998; Wade & Adams, 1989).

What Are Possible Explanations for the Seductive Details Effect?

It has been argued that the main cause of the seductive details effect is the increase of emotional interest in the reader (Harp & Mayer, 1997, 1998). On the one hand, seductive details are interesting, and piqued interest may increase motivation and learning. For example, interest has been shown to correlate well with deep learning from text (Schiefele, 1999). However, Kintsch (1980) made an important distinction between what he termed emotional and cognitive interest. …

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