Interruptions Disrupt Reading Comprehension

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Previous research suggests that being interrupted while reading a text does not disrupt the later recognition or recall of information from that text. This research is used as support for Ericsson and Kintsch’s (1995) long-term working memory (LT-WM) theory, which posits that disruptions while reading (e.g., interruptions) do not impair subsequent text comprehension. However, to fully comprehend a text, individuals may need to do more than recognize or recall information that has been presented in the text at a later time. Reading comprehension often requires individuals to connect and synthesize information across a text (e.g., successfully identifying complex topics such as themes and tones) and not just make a familiarity-based decision (i.e., recognition). The goal for this study was to determine whether interruptions while reading disrupt reading comprehension when the questions assessing comprehension require participants to connect and synthesize information across the passage. In Experiment 1, interruptions disrupted reading comprehension. In Experiment 2, interruptions disrupted reading comprehension but not recognition of information from the text. In Experiment 3, the addition of a 15-s time-out prior to the interruption successfully removed these negative effects. These data suggest that the time it takes to process the information needed to successfully comprehend text when reading is greater than that required for recognition. Any interference (e.g., an interruption) that occurs during the comprehension process may disrupt reading comprehension. This evidence supports the need for transient activation of information in working memory for successful text comprehension and does not support LT-WM theory.

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