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Visual Imagery and Reading Enjoyment: A Situation Model Investigation

Researcher Lia Katsipis

Supervisors Dr Bethanie Gouldthorp and Shiree Treleaven-Hassard

Date: Completed October 2011

Ethics Approval Number: 2011/069

Background: Little research has attempted to determine whether reading motivation is related to the internal cognitive experience of reading. This study aimed to fill a gap in the literature by investigating whether the ability to construct rich visual imagery via situation model construction is related to higher reading enjoyment (a strong motivational factor towards reading). A situation model is a mental representation of a situation described in a text, which is constructed through the integration of explicit information found in the text with implicit information, such as readers’ background knowledge. It was proposed that visual imagery of texts that are produced using a situation model are likely to be richer and more extensive, as they utilise background information rather than only the information given in the text. Thus, it was hypothesised that the ability to create a situation model is likely to facilitate reading engagement through the production of rich visual imagery, leading to a more enjoyable reading experience.

Method: 45 psychology students participated in two separate computer tasks, of which one measured participants' reaction time and accuracy, and the other measured participants' physiological orienting response (through skin conductance and heart-rate measures). In both these tasks participants were presented with narratives followed by picture targets, on which they made a relatedness decision. Each picture target was of an object that was either implicitly related but not mentioned in the text, explicitly stated in the text, or unrelated to the text. As implicit information is required to build a coherent situation model, it was predicted that participants with higher levels of reading enjoyment (as measured through a reading enjoyment survey) would have faster response times, higher accuracy rates and greater orienting responses (as indicated by a rise in skin conductance and a deceleration in heart rate) to implicitly related targets than explicitly related or unrelated targets, compared to participants who don't enjoy reading as much.

Results: The decision-making task successfully served the purpose of measuring situation model construction; as demonstrated by significantly faster and more accurate responses to implicit than explicit targets. However, evidence of situation model construction was not observed in the measures of the orienting response, although skin conductance levels were in the hypothesised direction, these results did not reach significance. Yet, given the significant effect in the reaction time and accuracy data, it is likely that situation model construction did occur in the second session but was simply not observed in the psychophysiological measures due to methodological reasons, for example the neutrality of the images utilised, and the repetitive nature of the task. The hypothesis that participants with a higher level of reading enjoyment would engage in greater situation model construction than those with lower levels of reading enjoyment was not supported, as no differences were found between groups of individuals with high and low levels of reading enjoyment on any of the dependent measures of situation model construction (reaction time, accuracy or orienting response). However, this may have been due to a restricted range of reading enjoyment scores, limiting the ability to make an appropriate comparison between groups of individuals with high and low levels of reading enjoyment.

Conclusion: In sum, these findings gave partial support to the theory that readers combine implicit knowledge with information given in a text to construct situation models whilst reading narratives. These findings also give some credence to the theoretical claims put forth by other researchers (i.e. Barsalou, 1999) that situation models contain perceptual representations such as visual imagery. This study also provided a foundation for research into the link between internal cognitive processes and reading enjoyment, and added to the evidence that tasks involving visual imagery are a useful method of investigating situation model construction. Notably, this study has also provided insight into how psychophysiological measures may be incorporated into research that investigates the cognitive processes involved in the construction of visual imagery during reading, which may be vital to uncovering unconscious and automatic cognitive processes that take place during situation model construction.