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Emotion Inferences and Text Comprehension: A project on the complexity of emotion inferences made during reading

Applicant Gygax Pascal
Number 120634
Funding scheme Project funding (Div. I-III)
Research institution Département de Psychologie Université de Fribourg
Institution of higher education University of Fribourg - FR
Main discipline Psychology
Start/End 01.09.2008 - 31.03.2010
Approved amount 71'156.00
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Keywords (9)

inferences; text comprehension; emotion understanding; cognitive processes; individual differences; Psycholinguistics; emotion inferences; working memory; empathy

Lay Summary (English)

Lay summary
Grounded in both psycholinguistic and psychological concepts, this project investigates reader’s automatic construction of the representation of the main protagonist’s emotional status in short narratives and the variables that modulate such a representation. Some authors (Gygax, Garnham, & Oakhill, 2004; Gygax, Oakhill, & Garnham, 2003) have questioned such notions, suggesting that when reading a text, there was no need for the readers to activate complex background information and incorporate specific emotions in their mental representations, and that a rather superficial representation of emotion would suffice to guide the reading process. In essence, they questioned the simplistic is vs. is not inferred dichotomy. Gygax, Tapiero & Carruzzo (2007) further showed that under normal reading circumstances, readers include behavioral elements, maybe more simple to retrieve from background knowledge, in their mental model of the situation (e.g., cry, clench your fist). They argued that readers may well form a representation foundation composed of easily retrievable behavioral elements (e.g. cry, clench your fist), on which more complex elements, such as emotion terms, can be mapped further along the reading process under particular circumstances. In this project, we investigate some circumstances that may explain differences in the complexity of readers’ representation of the main character’s emotional status. More specifically, we investigate working memory, elaboration time, simulation and empathy as variables responsible for the complexity of readers’ mental representation of emotion. The project is composed of two sets of experiments. The two sets of experiments will essentially differ in the paradigm used, as a possible means to differentiate between strategic (i.e., off-line) and automatic processes (on-line). Within each set, two experiments will be conducted, differing in the characteristics of the presentation of the stimuli, mirroring an elaboration time manipulation. All experimental sessions (i.e., four experiments) will actually comprise three phases. The first phase of each experiment will be aimed at the evaluation of each participant’s working memory capacity. The second phase will comprise the actual experiment (i.e. self-paced reading or lexical decision task experiment on inference processing), which will be further separated in two parts. These two parts will differ in the instructions given to the participants as regarding their simulation strategy. Finally, the third phase will be aimed at evaluating readers’ general level of empathy.In all, we expect low working memory, low elaboration time, low simulation strategy and low empathy to result in shallow or absent representation of the main protagonist’s emotional status, whereas a high level in each of these variables may well result in a complex and specific (as first suggested by Gernsbacher et al., 1992) representation of emotions. This study investigates the complex interaction between these variables when representing the main protagonist’s emotional status.
Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 21.02.2013

Responsible applicant and co-applicants


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Associated projects

Number Title Start Funding scheme
118301 Gender representations in Language: A project on the interaction of the generic masculine and stereotypical information in constructing a mental representation of gender 01.11.2007 Project funding (Div. I-III)
130101 Emotion inferences and text comprehension: Narrative characteristics and their influence on emotion inferences elaboration 01.04.2010 Project funding (Div. I-III)