Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology

Construction, Integration, and Mind Wandering in Reading

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology

Construction, Integration, and Mind Wandering in Reading

Article excerpt

In two experiments, we investigated how text recall was related to moment-to-moment variations in mental state while reading, and how both recall and mental state were related to the interest value of the text. In both experiments, subjects read either an interesting text (a segment of Rice's Interview with the Vampire [A. Rice, 1997, Interview with the vampire, New York. NY: Ballantine Books] or a less interesting text (a segment of Thackery's The History of Pendennis [W. M. Thackery, 2009/1914, The history of Pendennis, Project Gutenberg, Retrieved from http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/7265]). The texts were read sentence-by-sentence on a computer screen, and subjects were periodically interrupted to answer a probe question. In Experiment 1, the probe asked whether subjects were attending to the text; in Experiment 2, the probe asked whether subjects were engaged with the story world. After reading the text, subjects were asked to recall as much of the story as possible. Recall of the material just prior to the probe was examined as a function of the whether the ratings were high, medium, or low. As expected, both on-task ratings and engagement ratings were higher for Interview than for Pendennis, but there were a substantial number of medium ratings given to both stories. In Experiment 1, there was a clear effect of story on recall over and above the effect of on-task rating. However, in Experiment 2, recall was purely a function of engagement rating. The results were interpreted in terms of a model in which recall is largely determined by the situation model representation of the narrative and in which engagement ratings (but not on-task ratings) provide a relatively pure index of the allocation of resources to processing of the situation model.

Keywords: mind wandering, construction and integration, reading, situation model

The present article builds on recent research on mind wandering in reading that demonstrates that with some frequency, readers fail to attend to the reading task. For example, readers report "zoning out" while reading with frequencies as high as 23% (Schooler, Reichle, & Halpern, 2004). Such inattention has, of course, negative implications for processing and later memory for the text (Schooler et al., 2004; Smallwood, McSpadden, & Schooler, 2008). However, in the present research we argue that in a complex task such as reading, the simple distinction between attending to the task and not attending to the task fails to capture important determinants of later memory. In particular, there is a range of different mental processes in reading to which one may allocate attentional resources. As a heuristic, we distinguish between construction processes that identify the meanings of words and sentences and integration processes that connect that information to long-term memory and build a situation model (Kintsch, 1988; Kintsch, Welsch, Schmalhofer, & Zimny, 1990). The two experiments reported here provide evidence on how the allocation of resources to off-task processes, construction processes, and integration processes affects subsequent memory.

In what follows, we first elaborate a characterization of mind wandering as the allocation of attentional resources to mental processes unrelated to the text. Second, we discuss the relationship between resource allocation and subsequent memory. While it is intuitive that poor memory would result if one is not devoting resources to the task, the details of the relationship between how resources are allocated and what is remembered may be more complex. Finally, we describe the potential role of textual interest value in determining resource allocation and subsequent memory. The manipulation of the nature of the text provides the tool used in the present pair of studies for distinguishing different models of the relationship between resource allocation and memory. The first experiment demonstrates that interest value has an effect on subsequent memory that is not mediated purely by attention to the task. …

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