Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Professor B.A. Levy
Cognitive psychologists have started to explore how people use their world knowledge in order to accomplish a variety of tasks. The focus of the thesis research was to investigate how world knowledge is accessed during the reading comprehension process. It has been suggested (Barsalou, 1982) that very familiar knowledge is readily available regardless of what the reading context emphasizes, but that less frequently used knowledge is readily available only in contexts which emphasize that knowledge. Experiment I demonstrated that findings consistent with this point of view are obtained only when subjects know what concepts they will be tested on, otherwise, both familiar and less familiar knowledge are accessed more quickly in appropriate contexts than in other contexts.
Experiment 2 provided further support for the findings from Experiment I even though a different baseline and two different literary forms were used. Experiment 2 also demonstrated that the distinction between access to familiar and less familiar knowledge is a quantitative one rather than a qualitative one, as access to less familiar knowledge was speeded relatively more by an appropriate context than was access to very familiar knowledge. Experiment 3 confirmed that this distinction is robust, as it remained stable despite changes in task variables and subjects' strategies. Experiment 3 also demonstrated that access to both types of knowledge is hindered by inappropriate contexts but only when the degree of congruency between contexts and test items is increased so that it resembles the degree of congruency common to natural text.
The results of the research are important because they lead to the proposal of a principle by which fluent comprehension is achieved and by which new information is obtained from text. The studies also suggest that if experimental results are to be generalized to what normally happens during reading, it is of utmost importance that reading materials be presented in a manner which does not differ significantly from the natural reading situation.
Barnes, Marcia Alexis, "The Effects of Reading Context on Access to World Knowledge" (1987). Open Access Dissertations and Theses. Paper 2133.