Reading and cognitive capacity usage: Effects of text difficulty

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Abstract

Used a secondary-task technique to observe cognitive capacity usage in reading easy and difficult texts in 3 experiments. Easy text filled cognitive capacity more completely than difficult text. A cognitive interpretation is that in reading easy passages the cognitive processors are full. But in difficult passages frequent breakdowns in comprehension processes temporarily empty the short-term memory and other processor spaces: This leaves cognitive capacity available for responding to the secondary task. Arousal, syntactic, and various artifactual interpretations were also examined. Texts covered a range of difficulty from 1st-grade readers to graduate school textbooks. An R-2 of .75 was found for a multiple linear regression model for predicting cognitive capacity usage with 5 text characteristics including comprehensibility, ease of learning, and semantic activeness of the text. (75 ref) (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2006 APA, all rights reserved)

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