Andrew Taylor

The relationship between beliefs and comprehension

The available research investigating the role of beliefs in the comprehension of expository texts is both limited and inconclusive. While some studies have found that believers have memory advantages for belief consistent information, termed the congeniality effect, others have not, while another group of studies have found the reverse effect. More contemporary researchers have begun to part ways with this view of a simple dichotomy between beliefs and comprehension, and instead have begun looking for other mediating factors that could aide in our understanding of the comprehension of belief relevant texts. Variables that have more recently become of interests to psychologists are prior knowledge, personal importance with regards to the issue, and the reason for holding that belief (termed belief basis and split into affect and evidence based).

The current study is an effort to replicate and build upon a previous study which found processing differences between evidence and affect based subjects when reading sentences that were inconsistent with the position of the text as a whole. This prior research, which found that evidence but not affect based subjects slowed down for position inconsistent sentences, concludes that evidence based subjects put forth more effort into inconsistent sentences in order to promote a more balanced mental model of the text. The current study makes use of multiple comprehension techniques including sentence reading times, sentence recognition, cued recall, and an inference generation task to measure memory differences due to belief basis. We look to further the understanding of belief comprehension by looking not only at belief basis but also the other factors highlighted recently in the literature. Our goal is to outline a more complete mechanism for the processing and comprehension of belief relevant expository texts.

Faculty Mentor: Michael Wolfe, Psychology

Page last modified July 19, 2010