Abstract: In search of complete comprehension: Getting “minimalists” to work

FOERTSCH, J., & GERNSBACHER, M. A. (1994). In search of complete comprehension: Getting “minimalists” to work. Discourse Processes, 18, 271-296.

Three experiments illustrated that readers will not completely comprehend the sentences they read unless sufficiently motivated by situational demands. Complete comprehension of a topic is defined as the ability to accurately redescribe that topic in one’s own words, and it entails three separate yet interdependent processing tasks: (a) activating the information contained in a topic, (b) resolving the topic as a new topic or as an anaphor referring to an old topic, (c) modifying one’s mental structures to organize the additional information that is received. Each process hinges on the outcome of those that preceded it, and comprehenders are not expected to initiate the next process in the sequence unless it is required or motivated by the task demands. To test these predictions, three experiments were conducted in which participants were prompted to engage in one, two, or all three comprehension processes after reading two-clause conjunctive sentences. The results suggested that experimental participants had a strategy of minimal task satisfaction: They did not resolve anaphors, build structures or draw inferences unless it was necessary for the completion of the experiment.