Network Representations of Causal Relations in Memory for Narrative Texts: Evidence from Primed Recognition

Robert F. Lorch

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87 Scopus citations


This study investigated how adult readers represent causal relations among events in a narrative. Existing models of text comprehension describe the representation either as a linear chain of text components that are adjacent in the surface structure of the text or as a network that includes relations between nonadjacent as well as adjacent text components. These models were tested in three priming experiments. In each experiment subjects read brief narratives and received a speeded-recognition test of their memories for story events. Each story could be represented either by a linear chain or by a network. On each trial in the recognition procedure, subjects read a priming sentence that reminded them of either a story (general prime) or a specific event in a story (specific prime). The specific primes were either causally related or unrelated to the subsequent target event and they were either adjacent or nonadjacent to the target in the surface structure of the text. Across the three experiments, positive responses were faster when the target followed a specific prime that was causally related than when it followed either a specific but unrelated prime or a general prime. Importantly, this was the case both when the specific prime and target were adjacent and when they were nonadjacent in the surface structure of the story. These results support a network model of the representation of causal relations in narratives; they are inconsistent with a linear chain model.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)75-98
Number of pages24
JournalDiscourse Processes
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Jan 1 1993

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We would like to thank Charles Fletcher, Jerome Myers, Richard Thurlow, Tom Trabasso, Jane Zbrodoff, and two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on an earlier version of this article. Parts of this research were reported at the annual meeting of the Psychonomic Society in Chicago, 1988. The research was supported by a summer fellowship from the University of Minnesota to the first author, by the Center for Research in Learning, Perception, and Cognition at the University of Minnesota, by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (HD-07151), and by a grant from the Wilson Learning Corporation.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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