Entering the story world: Individual differences in situation modelling ability and reading enjoyment.

Researcher Rebecca Iannello

Supervisors Dr Bethanie Gouldthorp

Date: Completed 2011

Background and Hypotheses

This study was designed to explore the relationship between situation modelling ability and reading enjoyment. In light of research providing evidence for a link between visual imagery usage and reading enjoyment/interest (Bouwer & Jordaan, 2002; Truscott et al., 1995), we investigated situation modelling ability – the capacity to mentally represent the state of affairs described in a text (Zwaan & Radvansky, 1998) – within a context of reading enjoyment self-report ratings. Previous research has neglected to look at the potential for such a relationship and the implications it might have for the prevailing literacy approach, making this a unique research design. The rationale was that exploring the potential for the mental reading experience to facilitate reading enjoyment would provide support for the real reading approach, and could subsequently improve present unsuccessful literacy approaches.

It was hypothesised that individuals with higher situation modelling ability would have a higher reading ability than individuals with lower situation modelling ability. In addition, the study also explored individual differences, such as gender, age, education level, vividness of visual imagery and reading ability, and their relationship with situation modelling ability, in light of the identification of some initial significant links (e.g. Dijkstra, Yaxley, Madden & Zwaan, 2004). In sum, we expected to find individuals with higher situation modelling ability to enjoy reading more, to report more vivid mental images, and to have higher reading ability.


Participants completed two computer based tasks that were designed to provide a measure of situation modelling ability. The first was a task reported in Horton and Rapp (2003) and the second was based on a task reported in Zwaan, Stanfield and Yaxley (2005). Other measures in the study included subjective ratings of reading enjoyment and vividness of visual imagery (using two pen-and-paper scales), and measures of vocabulary, reading rate, and comprehension ability (using the Nelson-Denny Reading Test).


Unfortunately, a malfunctioning response box meant that data from the computer tasks was unable to be used. Thus, hypotheses relating to situation modelling ability were unable to be assessed. However, an interesting finding was observed between reading enjoyment and reading ability wherein a significant positive correlation was found. This is consistent with expectations and findings of other studies. Reading enjoyment has been linked with various factors that comprise reading ability, including knowledge acquisition, vocabulary breadth, comprehension ability and grammar (Cunningham & Stanovich, 1998; Cipielewski & Stanovich, 1992; Cox & Guthrie, 2001). This finding can be explained by the proposed relationship between automaticity – the ability to decode language and interpret meaning with little conscious effort (Logan, 1997) – and flow, the state of consciousness that creates an optimal physical and mental experience, characterised by deep concentration in, and enjoyment of, an activity (Csikszentmihalyi, 2000). This explains why we, and other studies, have consistently found individuals who are good at reading (during which reading is automatic) to enjoy reading (because they are absorbed in a flow experience). This finding highlights the importance of considering reading enjoyment in literacy development approaches.

Future Research

It is hoped that the results of this study will contribute to the base of psycholinguistic research, and provide a greater understanding of internal influences on reading enjoyment. This information is anticipated to be highly useful for literacy-based programs and educational facilities (i.e. schools). It may assist with the identification of individuals at risk of low levels of reading involvement and potential illiteracy, and guide the implementation of programs and teaching strategies to prevent this occurring. Such findings may also help to bridge the gap between an emphasis on skills acquisition, and the consideration of reading enjoyment, in present literacy approaches. The promotion of situation modelling ability as a comprehension and reading ability skill, if it facilitates reading enjoyment, could be a revolutionary inclusion into educational programs. Given this, a replication of the study design using fully functioning equipment and potentially alternative (or additional) situation modelling ability measures is recommended.