Monitoring information during reading: Investigating the role of working memory in a dual-task paradigm

Monitoring information during reading: Investigating the role of working memory in a dual-task paradigm

First Author: Amy de Bruïne -- Leiden University
Additional authors/chairs: 
Dietsje Jolles; Paul van den Broek
Keywords: Working memory, Reading comprehension, cognitive processes, coherence, Comprehension Monitoring
Abstract / Summary: 

Purpose
To understand the world around us, we construct a mental representation of incoming information. When reading a text, for example, we integrate sentences, monitor our understanding and coherence, and slow down when we encounter inconsistencies. Working memory (WM) is often is argued to play an important role in the processes involved in reading comprehension, but recent findings raise doubts about such a role. In this study we investigate whether coherence monitoring requires WM capacity. If so, this would suggest that coherence monitoring is (in part) a strategic or active process. If not, this would suggest that coherence monitoring is relatively passive.

Method
Native Dutch speaking adult participants (N=32, 18-30 years of age) read 64 consistent and inconsistent stories, divided over two conditions (control and dual-task) on a computer, one sentence at a time. The sentences were followed by a number: in the dual-task condition participants had to remember the numbers.

Results
Reading-time results show that participants noticed the inconsistencies in the control but not in the dual-task condition. These results indicate that when WM is constrained (e.g., by a secondary task) inconsistencies in the text seem to go unnoticed and coherence monitoring appears to be failing.

Conclusions
The results suggest that coherence monitoring is an active process for which WM is needed.
An alternative interpretation of the results is that rehearsal of the numbers obscured any possible inconsistency effect in the WM condition. A follow-up experiment examines this alternative.