Starting from scratch and building brick by brick in comprehension

Christopher A. Kurby, Jeffrey M. Zacks

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

55 Scopus citations


During narrative comprehension, readers construct representations of the situation described by a text, called situation models. Theories of situation model construction and event comprehension posit two distinct types of situation model updating: incremental updating of individual situational dimensions, and global updates in which an old model is abandoned and a new one created. No research to date has directly tested whether readers update their situation models incrementally, globally, or both. We investigated whether both incremental and global updating occur during narrative comprehension. Participants typed what they were thinking while reading an extended narrative, and then segmented the narrative into meaningful events. Each typed think-aloud response was coded for whether it mentioned characters, objects, space, time, goals, or causes. There was evidence for both incremental and global updating: Readers mentioned situation dimensions more when those dimensions changed, controlling for the onset of a new event. Readers also mentioned situation dimensions more at points when a new event began than during event middles, controlling for the presence of situational change. These results support theories that claim that readers engage in both incremental and global updating during extended narrative comprehension.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)812-826
Number of pages15
JournalMemory and Cognition
Issue number5
StatePublished - Jul 2012


  • Discourse processing
  • Event segmentation
  • Situation models
  • Updating


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