Character Status as a Constraint on Inference: Some Aspects of the Cognitive Processes Underlying Written Language Interpretation

Clegg, Michael Jonathon (1996) Character Status as a Constraint on Inference: Some Aspects of the Cognitive Processes Underlying Written Language Interpretation. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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The scope of recent experimental work on reader inference has been defined by the debate between proponents of minimalism and constructionism. Constructionists (Glenberg and Mathew, 1992; Graesser and Kreuz, 1993) have argued that readers routinely make inferences; combining textual input with general knowledge to construct a mental model analogue of the situation described in the text. Minimalists (McKoon and Ratcliff, 1992) have counter-claimed that readers are highly constrained in the inferential work they attempt. In this thesis an alternative approach is attempted, postulating that the structure of the text itself will encourage and control inferencing. Specifically, it is demonstrated that the marking of a main character in narrative determines how readers interpret certain types of background information. This is termed the main character attribution effect and is initially demonstrated for psychological atmosphere background statements (Garrod and Sanford, 1988). In a series of experiments using question-answering, self-paced reading, and eye-tracking techniques I demonstrate the robustness of this effect and detail its time course. In further on and off-line studies I consider the generality of the effect with regard to other types of background statement and to the ordering of background and characterhood information. From these experiments I conclude that the background statement itself acts as a bottom-up cue for attributional inference, the locus of which is then controlled by the main character. This is incompatible with the minimalist position.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Additional Information: Adviser: Simon Garrod
Keywords: Cognitive psychology, Experimental psychology
Date of Award: 1996
Depositing User: Enlighten Team
Unique ID: glathesis:1996-76112
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 19 Nov 2019 16:38
Last Modified: 19 Nov 2019 16:38

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