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Situation Models and Language Comprehension

Researcher Nicole Ilich

Supervisors Dr Jeff Coney

Date: Completed 2011

Project Number: 2011/090

Situation models are mental images created when reading or listening to a descriptive passage of text. This study aimed to investigate which cerebral hemisphere was responsible for the generation of situation models. Generally the left hemisphere (LH) is responsible for language based tasks and the right hemisphere (RH) is responsible for tasks of a visiospatial nature. This study used a new method to assess the generation of situation models.

Participants were presented with a brief passage which they were required to read before being presented with a simple image that was either related or unrelated to the passage. Participants were required to decide if the image was consistent with the passage or if it was inconsistent. A lexical decision task was not utilised for this task as it was intuitively felt that identifying a word and then determining its relationship to a passage would take too long and undoubtedly involve whole brain activation, negating any potential hemispheric effects.

This study found that the RH was significantly better then the LH at identifying images that were related to the passage, no significant differences were associated with the identification of unrelated passages. This suggests that the right hemisphere is involved to some extent in the generation of situation models.

Other Findings

Participants who rated themselves as being good at tasks of mental imagery performed significantly better then weak visual imagers when identifying unrelated images. It is proposed that this was because strong mental imagers create more detailed situation models, so the identification of an unrelated object is easier for them.

Reading attitudes did not have any affect on reaction times. The majority of participants in this study, however, were university educated and therefore all are likely to be highly practiced readers.

There were no significant sex differences in task performance.

Strengths of this study include the stimulus material and the composition of the sample which was made up of almost equal numbers of males and females. Future research into the hemispheric location of situation model generation should aim to assess sex differences and the effect of visual imaging ability on situation model generation in further detail.