Revising what readers know: Updating text representations during narrative comprehension

David N. Rapp, Panayiota Kendeou

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

97 Scopus citations


Reading comprehension involves not just encoding information into memory, but also updating and revising what is already known or believed. For example, as narrative plots unfold, readers often must revise the expectations they have constructed from earlier portions of text to successfully comprehend later events. Evidence suggests that such revision is by no means guaranteed. In three experiments, we examined conditions that influence readers' revision of trait-based models for story characters. Trait models are particularly relevant for examining such revision because they demonstrate resistance to change. We specifically assessed whether task instructions and content-driven refutations of earlier information would enhance the likelihood of revision. In Experiment 1, instructions to carefully consider the appropriateness of story outcomes generally facilitated revision. In Experiment 2, we removed those instructions; revision occurred only when refutations included sufficient explanation to suggest that updating was necessary. Experiment 3 further supported the influence of instructions on readers' propensities to revise. These results are informative with respect to the mechanisms that guide readers' moment-by-moment comprehension of unfolding narratives.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2019-2032
Number of pages14
JournalMemory and Cognition
Issue number8
StatePublished - Dec 2007


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