On-line processing of topic structure by children and adults

Elizabeth Pugzles Lorch, Robert F. Lorch, Monica L. Gretter, Donna G. Horn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


A recent model of text processing proposed that adults construct a representation of topics during reading; a new topic is related to the representation as soon as relevant information is encountered. The present experiment tested the generality of this model for younger readers. Fourth- and sixth-grade children and college students read two hierarchically organized expository texts while reading times were recorded for initial topic sentences and specific nontopic sentences. Across ages, the major findings were (1) topic sentence reading times were shorter if a transition question informed the reader of the next topic; (2) topic sentence reading times were shorter if the new topic was directly related to the immediately preceding topic than if it was not directly related. Reading times for nontopic sentences were not affected by these manipulations. Reading times decreased as age increased, but text structure manipulations had very similar effects at all ages. The results are consistent with the general model, indicating that even young readers identify and relate expository text topics as they read.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)81-95
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Experimental Child Psychology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1987

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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