Task Effects and Individual Differences in On-Line Processing of the Topic Structure of a Text

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45 Scopus citations


Do experienced readers alter their processing of topics in a text according to task demands? Subjects read a text in preparation for a task that either emphasized topic information (outlining) or did not emphasize topic information (verification). Reading times were recorded for sentences which introduced either major or minor shifts of text topics. Subjects read topic sentences more slowly if they introduced major topic shifts, but the magnitude of the effect depended upon the task and the subjects’ text recall ability. The effect was greater for better recallers than for poorer recallers. Also, the effect was greater in the outline task than in the verification task, but only for better recallers. The results indicate that: (a) Readers determine topic interrelations as they encounter new topics during reading; (b) better recallers are more consistent about inferring topic interrelations; and (c) better recallers are more flexible in their processing of topic information.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)63-80
Number of pages18
JournalDiscourse Processes
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 1987

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by a University of Kentucky Research Foundation Grant, and by two UKRF Faculty Summer Fellowships to the first author. Some of the research reported here was presented at the Southeastern Psychological Association Convention in New Orleans, 1984. Correspondence and requests for reprints should be addressed to Robert F. Lorch, Jr., Department of Psychology, Kastle Hall, University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY, 40506-0044.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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