Exploring the influence of background knowledge on reading multiple representations in a long scientific article: an eye-movement study

Exploring the influence of background knowledge on reading multiple representations in a long scientific article: an eye-movement study

First Author: Yu-Cin Jian -- National Taiwan Normal University
Additional authors/chairs: 
Jia-han Su
Keywords: cognitive processes, Eye movements, illustrated text reading, Multimedia learning, Scientific literacy
Abstract / Summary: 

A scientific article is a standard multiple-representation text comprising words and different types of diagrams (e.g., decorative, representative, explanative, and statistical graphs) having different functions in conveying scientific information. However, how background knowledge influences readers in processing these multiple representations is unclear. This study explored this research question using eye-tracking technology. Study participants included 50 undergraduate students who read a long scientific article on typhoons causing slow earthquakes. This article contained six pages with each page consisting of text and diagram. Based on their college major and a prior knowledge test, half of the participants possessed high background knowledge (HBK) of the learning material, and half possessed low background knowledge (LBK). Their reading processes were recorded by an eye tracker. Thereafter, they completed a free-recall and a comprehension test. The results revealed that the HBK group recalled more information and comprehended better than the LBK group. Regarding eye movement analysis, HBK participants spent significantly longer total fixation duration on statistical graphs (and their statement) and representative diagrams than LBK participants, but not on decorative and explanative diagrams. However, the groups did not differ in their text reading processes. Overall, we found that the background knowledge influenced scientific text reading on those diagrams that contained rich information and required readers to subjectively decode its meaning. The above findings implied that readers with high science background knowledge had better literacy of scientific diagrams that resulted in better reading comprehension.