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Adaptation to semantic violations of varying strengths within and across texts

Colvin, Michelle (2021) Adaptation to semantic violations of varying strengths within and across texts. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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Language comprehension is remarkable in that we adapt easily to different forms of language use, from adapting to speakers’ dialects, meanings of new slang words, and fictional worlds described in novels. While there is growing evidence comprehenders adapt their expectations for text during reading, the nature of these adaptation mechanisms remains unclear. Some comprehension accounts maintain adaptation results from error-driven learning, such that larger errors lead to greater changes in expectations than smaller errors. Yet, the relationship between strength of error and the rate by which one adapts to semantic information during reading (i.e. whether larger errors lead to greater and faster adaptation) is an open question. The present dissertation tested this by investigating the time course by which younger and older adult readers adapt their expectations for fantasy-based texts. Participants read twenty short narratives, each containing five instances of semantic, or meaning, violations. Varying strengths of semantic violations–stronger (larger error) and weaker (smaller error) semantic violations–served as cues for readers to adopt a fantasy-world perspective on the text; adaptation was evident through decreased disruption to violations across instances within a single narrative and between narratives. The first experiment examined whether readers predict more fantasy-related content in subsequent parts of narratives with stronger than weaker violations during a cumulative cloze task. The second experiment used eye tracking to examine whether readers adapt faster to stronger than weaker violations within and across narratives. The third experiment took a broader cognitive approach to comprehension by investigating whether different aspects of readers’ cognitive control ability associate with their degree of adaptation. Results indicate readers quickly adapt their expectations for a given fantasy text containing stronger violations. However, there was no evidence for adaptation to weak violations in fantasy narratives. There was considerably stronger evidence for adaptation to stronger violations within narratives than across narratives, suggesting there may be a limit to which comprehenders adjust their expectations during reading. Taken together, these findings are partially supportive of an error-based account of comprehension and leave open questions. This work highlights the importance of assessing comprehension from both language-specific and cognitive-general perspectives.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Colvin, Michellembh32@pitt.edumbh320000-0002-6594-9474
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairWarren, Tessatessa@pitt.edutessa0000-0003-1862-3436
Committee MemberDickey, Michaelmdickey@pitt.edumdickey0000-0002-9068-3313
Committee MemberFiez, Juliefiez@pitt.edufiez0000-0003-1090-2481
Committee MemberPerfetti, Charlesperfetti@pitt.eduperfetti0000-0002-0211-8518
Date: 20 January 2021
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 28 August 2020
Approval Date: 20 January 2021
Submission Date: 3 December 2020
Access Restriction: 1 year -- Restrict access to University of Pittsburgh for a period of 1 year.
Number of Pages: 140
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Psychology
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: language, comprehension, semantics, adaptation
Date Deposited: 20 Jan 2021 18:24
Last Modified: 20 Jan 2022 06:15

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