Attentional focus affects how events are segmented and updated in narrative reading

Heather R. Bailey, Christopher A. Kurby, Jesse Q. Sargent, Jeffrey M. Zacks

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


Readers generate situation models representing described events, but the nature of these representations may differ depending on the reading goals. We assessed whether instructions to pay attention to different situational dimensions affect how individuals structure their situation models (Exp. 1) and how they update these models when situations change (Exp. 2). In Experiment 1, participants read and segmented narrative texts into events. Some readers were oriented to pay specific attention to characters or space. Sentences containing character or spatial-location changes were perceived as event boundaries—particularly if the reader was oriented to characters or space, respectively. In Experiment 2, participants read narratives and responded to recognition probes throughout the texts. Readers who were oriented to the spatial dimension were more likely to update their situation models at spatial changes; all readers tracked the character dimension. The results from both experiments indicated that attention to individual situational dimensions influences how readers segment and update their situation models. More broadly, the results provide evidence for a global situation model updating mechanism that serves to set up new models at important narrative changes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)940-955
Number of pages16
JournalMemory and Cognition
Issue number6
StatePublished - Aug 1 2017


  • Event segmentation
  • Global updating
  • Incremental updating
  • Situation model updating
  • Text comprehension


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