Inferential processes, updating information and working memory in reading comprehension of adults

  1. Ana Isabel Pérez Muñoz
Supervised by:
  1. María Teresa Bajo Molina Director
  2. Katherine Elisabeth Cain Director

Defence university: Universidad de Granada

Year of defence: 2014

  1. Manuel de Vega Rodríguez Chair
  2. Pedro Macizo Soria Secretary
  3. Ángel Fernández Ramos Committee member
  4. Diane Pecher Committee member
  5. María Ruz Cámara Committee member

Type: Thesis


The general aim of this thesis was to investigate some high¿level cognitive processes of reading comprehension that are involved in the construction of a situation model (van Dijk & Kintsch, 1983). Concretely, we refer to the processes of inference making, which allows the reader to extract information that is not explicitly described in the text (e.g., Cain & Oakhill, 1999); comprehension monitoring, which helps readers to verify their understanding of what they have read (Wagoner, 1983); and updating information, which is used to replace outdated information with new information that is more consistent with the context (Carretti, Borella, Cornoldi, & De Beni, 2009). Moreover, we also investigated whether performance on these high¿level comprehension processes was predicted by individual differences in working memory. In fact, we explored the possibility that these processes were specifically restricted to the verbal domain of working memory, without the involvement of the visuospatial component. Concretely, in Study 1 we used three types of knowledge¿based inferences that differed in their way to require the connection of text information. Our results indicate that only some knowledge¿based inferences requiring the connection between the current information and prior segments of the text (explicative inferences) or possible future outcomes (predictive inferences) are influenced by the ability to maintain information in working memory capacity when answering off¿line comprehension sentences. We propose that this is due to their causal nature, since they require the active maintenance of not just the current information but also the causal referent (antecedent or consequent) to which is associated. Furthermore, in Study 2 and 3 we aimed to disentangle the processes of comprehension monitoring and updating information. Specifically, in Study 2 we used eye movements¿ technique to see if readers required the rereading of the text to answer critical sentences, allowing us to clarify whether they had updated their situation model. In addition, we evaluated both verbal and visuospatial working memory to explore whether differences in working memory were restricted to a specific domain. In Study 3 we used event-related potentials¿ (ERPs) technique to investigate the inferential updating process, and see if individual differences were also explained by a typical task used to evaluate the updating of the contents of working memory: memory updating task. Together our findings demonstrate that adults commonly monitor their comprehension: they are able to detect text information that is inconsistent with their current situation model. This has been associated to the P3a potential in ERPs, and it is not explained by individual differences in working memory. More importantly, the ability to update information into the situation model depends on working memory capacity: high working memory readers update their mental representation during on¿line reading; in contrast, low working memory have difficulties updating their mental representation, which suggests the idea of deficits in inhibitory processes to suppress the outdated information. In fact, it seems to be restricted to the verbal domain of working memory. Furthermore, working memory differences found in updating has been associated to the P3b potential. Finally, the inferential updating process suggests that low working memory readers could also have problems accurately representing inferential information into their situation model. This has been related to the N400 potential and would especially occur when readers have to update inferential information that is semantically similar. Bibliografía Cain, K., & Oakhill, J. V. (1999). Inference making ability and its relation to comprehension failure in young children. Reading and Writing, 11(5-6), 489-503. doi: Carretti, B., Borella, E., Cornoldi, C., & De Beni, R. (2009). Role of working memory in explaining the performance of individuals with specific reading comprehension difficulties: A meta-analysis. Learning and Individual Differences, 19(2), 245-251. doi: Van Dijk, T. A., & Kintsch, W. (1983). Strategies of Discourse Comprehension. New York: Academic Press. Wagoner, S. A. (1983). Comprehension monitoring: What it is and what we know about it. Reading Research Quarterly, 18(3), 328-346.