Cognitive Coupling During Reading

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We hypothesize that cognitively engaged readers dynamically adjust their reading times with respect to text complexity (i.e., reading times should increase for difficult sections and decrease for easier ones) and failure to do so should impair comprehension. This hypothesis is consistent with theories of text comprehension but has surprisingly been untested. We tested this hypothesis by analyzing 4 datasets in which participants (N = 484) read expository texts using a self-paced reading paradigm. Participants self-reported mind wandering in response to pseudorandom thought-probes during reading and completed comprehension assessments after reading. We computed two measures of cognitive coupling by regressing each participant’s paragraph-level reading times on two measures of text complexity: Flesch–Kincaid Grade Level and Word Concreteness scores. The two coupling measures yielded convergent findings: coupling was a negative predictor of mind wandering and a positive predictor of both text- and inference-level comprehension. Goodness-of-fit, measured with Akaike information criterion, also improved after adding coupling to the reading-time only models. Furthermore, cognitive coupling mediated the relationship between mind wandering and comprehension, supporting the hypothesis that mind wandering engenders a decoupling of attention from external stimuli.

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