University of Sussex
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“Like a sound of a page being turned in a book” - An exploration of the embodied strategies and subjective experiences that contribute to successful reading comprehension in both children and adults

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posted on 2023-06-09, 12:06 authored by Molly Berenhaus
The main aims of the current doctoral thesis included: (1) comparing the impact of different embodiment (manipulation versus enactment) and (2) perspective-taking strategies on children (9 to 10-year-olds) and adults’ (18 to 30-year-olds) comprehension of narrative texts. In addition, we aimed to (3) better understand children’s subjective experience (e.g., “What’s going in your head while reading x?”) while reading normally; e.g., at home or in the classroom. Chapter 2 investigated the benefits of storyboard construction (SB), i.e., creating a visual representation of a narrative text using plastic cut-outs, on 5 children’s comprehension monitoring and story recall. We found that children who constructed a storyboard while reading remembered more of the narrative texts versus business-as-usual controls and formed more coherent narratives during recall. Contrary to previous research (Rubman & Waters, 2000), SB had no positive impact on children’s comprehension monitoring ability. Chapter 3 included a subset (25 out of 35) of children from Chapter 2 and aimed to capture the nuances of children’s experience while reading normally and how those experiences map onto comprehension performance. We found that children who reported taking the perspective of a story’s character (either spatially, emotionally and/or cognitively), while reading normally, performed better on measures from Chapter 1 (e.g., coherence of recall) than children who did not. Chapter 3 presented a yearlong, longitudinal training study, which compared the immediate and long-term benefits of SB and Active Experiencing (AE), the act of becoming fully engrossed in communicating a text to another person, on children in Year 5’s literal and inferential comprehension of emotion and spatial information in narrative texts. SB was found to improve children’s story recall and performance on spatial-based questions immediately after training compared to other conditions (AE and controls). The benefits of SB training on recall continued three and six months later. In addition, AE training improved children’s performance on emotion-based questions, but only immediately after training. Finally, Chapter 4 first (Experiment 1) examined the effects of encouraging young adults to imagine themselves performing the actions of a protagonist or feeling what the protagonist is feeling (to empathise) while reading excerpts from Dubliners by James Joyce on their comprehension and emotional arousal. Empathising with the protagonist was found to increase readers’ arousal, an indication of emotional reactivity. To follow up, we next measured the effects of encouraging young adults (Experiment 2) and children (Experiment 3) to empathise (feel what the character is feeling) or sympathise (care about how the character is feeling) with a story’s protagonist while reading on a variety of inferential and literal comprehension questions. Young adults encouraged to sympathise with a story’s protagonist had a particular advantage on comprehending literal emotion information about the protagonist as well as non-emotional, non-character-focused inferential and literal information. There was no effect of perspective-taking prompt on children’s comprehension.


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University of Sussex

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