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Title:Adult Age Differences in Processing Narrative Text: Managing Character Representations
Author(s):Noh, Soo Rim
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Stine-Morrow, Elizabeth A.L.
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):Language, Linguistics
Abstract:Understanding a narrative situation depends on keeping track of multiple characters that enter and exit dynamically as the plot unfolds. Because there has been no systematic investigation of age differences in the ability to manage multiple characters during narrative comprehension, this project was designed to examine those differences in this facet of language processing. Experiment 1 used a probe recognition paradigm to examine the effect of age on the accessibility of a previous character when another character was subsequently introduced. In Experiment 2 reading time was measured to examine age differences in the encoding of a new character after another had already been introduced. The findings show that older readers have particular difficulty in (a) accessing the initial character after a new character is introduced, and (b) thoroughly encoding a new character while other characters inhabit the discourse world. These age differences were attributable to age differences in working memory that make it difficult to access a backgrounded character when a new character is in focus, and to distinctively encode a new character when maintenance of another character is already consuming attentional resources. Experiment 3 showed that when characters were referred to by common nouns, age differences in accessing the initial character after the introduction of a new character disappeared, suggesting that age deficits in proper name learning, in part, contributed to the age differences in character accessibility observed in Experiment 1. Notably, the results with older adults revealed that named characters were, in general, more accessible than noun-designated characters and that they had particular difficulty in retaining focus on a single character across intervening events when the character was referred to by a common noun. These findings were attributable to the pragmatic function of proper names in discourse, with named characters being viewed as central characters, making them more accessible than noun designated characters. Older adults appeared to take differential advantage of this pragmatic function of proper names when managing multiple characters. The eye-tracking data from Experiment 4 showed that older adults' online comprehension was especially disrupted by the need to process multiple characters. Older readers were more likely to launch a regression at the mention of the initial character at the end of the narrative when a new character was introduced and to spend longer rereading the previous text. However, older adults produced relatively simple story continuations after reading two-character stories, suggesting that they directed their allocation effort toward situation model at the expense of their lower level processing. Collectively, contrary to other results in aging and situation model processing, the findings from this project suggest that older readers may have difficulty managing character representations during narrative comprehension.
Issue Date:2009
Description:199 p.
Thesis (Ph.D.)--University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2009.
Other Identifier(s):(MiAaPQ)AAI3392238
Date Available in IDEALS:2015-09-28
Date Deposited:2009

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