Psychology Ph.D. Dissertations

How Readers Process Narrative Information Involving Characters' Decisions

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Advisor

Richard Anderson (Advisor)

Second Advisor

Umar Islambekov (Other)

Third Advisor

Dale Klopfer (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Michael Zickar (Committee Member)


This dissertation explores the information processing mechanism of cognitive assimilation in short-story reading by manipulating the explanatory information and its presentation format. The primary purpose of this dissertation is to explain the lengthened reading time caused by cognitive complexity in the reading behavior found in Jacovina and Gerrig's study on how readers experience characters' decisions (Jacovina & Gerrig, 2010); furthermore, this dissertation intends to reveal how readers' mental models adjust to additional information related to a character's decisions and motivations and explore how different information presentation formats impact the participants' recognition memory. Three experiments were conducted to explain the phenomena unexplained in Jacovina and Gerrig's study of readers' participatory response to the story assimilation. Experiment 1 was a pilot study conducted to evaluate the decisions from three stories provided in the Jacovina and Gerrig study and examine whether the explanatory information in the textual and multi-media versions carried equal information. Experiment 2 was designed to test the Reconciliation Hypothesis by manipulating the congruency and explanatory status of additional information; stimuli used in Experiment 2 were the same from Jacovina and Gerrig's study except for the explanatory information. Explanatory information or non-explanatory information was introduced to stories based on the design before participants read the story outcome. The experiment results showed that providing the explanatory information for the character's decision would relieve participants from generating an explanation on the assimilation. Participants showed a shorter reading time when provided with explanatory information regarding the character's decision. Furthermore, recognition memory indicated that there was an improved effect on their memory in the recognition test for the explanatory information condition. The explanatory information and non-explanatory information were expanded by manipulating their presentation formats to examine the Multi-media Boost Experience Hypothesis in Experiment 3. Participants in Experiment 3 received either the explanatory information or the non-explanatory information, which was randomly presented by either the textual version (explained the reason the character made that decision) or the multi-media version (the explanation of the character's decision was in both text and graphic format). Effects were observed for the format of explanatory information. The multi-media format of explanatory information had a significant effect on participants' reading time and percent correct recognition score, as their reading time was shorter in reading the outcome sentence and participants had the higher recognition memory score. The overall results imply that the cognitive complexity created by participatory response could be altered by providing the explanatory information of a character's decision, and the multi-media presentation format of the explanatory information could boost this effect by decreasing the reading time on outcome assimilation and improving the recognition memory.