The effect of discourse structure on depth of semantic integration in reading

Yang, Xiaohong; Chen, Lijing; Yang, Yufang
February 2014
Memory & Cognition;Feb2014, Vol. 42 Issue 2, p325
Academic Journal
A coherent discourse exhibits certain structures in that subunits of discourses are related to one another in various ways and in that subunits that contribute to the same discourse purpose are joined to create a larger unit so as to produce an effect on the reader. To date, this crucial aspect of discourse has been largely neglected in the psycholinguistic literature. In two experiments, we examined whether semantic integration in discourse context was influenced by the difference of discourse structure. Readers read discourses in which the last sentence was locally congruent but either semantically congruent or incongruent when interpreted with the preceding sentence. Furthermore, the last sentence was either in the same discourse unit or not in the same discourse unit as the preceding sentence, depending on whether they shared the same discourse purpose. Results from self-paced reading (Experiment 1) and eye tracking (Experiment 2) showed that discourse-incongruous words were read longer than discourse-congruous words only when the critical sentence and the preceding sentence were in the same discourse unit, but not when they belonged to different discourse units. These results establish discourse structure as a new factor in semantic integration and suggest that discourse effects depend both on the content of what is being said and on the way that the contents are organized.


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