Causality and the Allocation of Attention During Comprehension

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Abstract

Recent research has suggested that each statement in a narrative text is understood by relating it to its causal antecedents and consequences and that the text as a whole is understood by finding a causal path linking its opening to its final outcome. Fletcher and Bloom (1988) have proposed that in order to accomplish this goal, while minimizing the number of times long-term memory has to be searched, readers focus their attention on the last clause of a narrative that has causal antecedents but no consequences in the preceding text. As a result, a statement that is followed by a causal antecedent should remain the focus of attention, while the same statement followed by a consequence should not. This prediction was tested and confirmed in three experiments which show that when a target statement is followed by a sentence that includes only causal antecedents, (a) continuation sentences related to it are read more quickly, (b) target words drawn from it are easier to recognize, and (c) subject-generated continuations are more likely to be causally related to it.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)233-240
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition
Volume16
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Mar 1990

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