James Woehrle

Publication Date


Document Type


First Advisor

Magliano, Joseph P.

Degree Name

Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy)

Legacy Department

Department of Psychology




When readers have a specific goal while reading a text, they are engaged in task-orientated reading, and this leads to certain information within the text being more relevant than other information. Under these conditions, readers may experience a relevancy effect, wherein they read sentences that contain relevant information more slowly and have better memory for this information compared to other information in the discourse (McCrudden, Magliano, & Schraw, 2010). However, there is evidence that not all readers manifest the relevancy effect in the same manner. McCrudden et al. (2010) examined individual differences in response to relevancy instructions and found that some readers focus only on relevant text information and have better memory for this information than irrelevant information. Other readers, while focusing on relevant information, also devoted attention to irrelevant information. The first group engaged in a narrowing strategy, and the second group engaged in a broadening strategy. The goal of the present study was to gain a better understanding of how relevancy instructions affect reading strategy and comprehension, while controlling for individual differences in response to reading instructions (i.e., narrowing and broadening strategies). It also remains unclear whether relevancy instructions result in readers only strengthening their memorial representation of relevant information or if readers also generate inferences (bridging or elaborative inferences) from relevant information. To provide insight on these outstanding questions, the current study involved the development of an instrument, the Relevancy Profile Assessment Instrument (RPAI), which measured the degree to which participants engaged in narrowing and broadening strategies. The experiment also assessed comprehension of text information, and how relevancy instructions affect reading strategy as measured by think-aloud protocols produced by participants while reading. It was expected that relevancy instructions would lead participants to engage in increased strategic processing (as measured by the think-aloud protocols) for relevant sentences in the text compared to irrelevant sentences. Specifically, when controlling for narrowing and broadening strategies, it was predicted that participants would engage in increased paraphrasing, and generate more bridging and elaborative inferences for relevant sentences. In addition, it was expected that the narrowing and broadening strategies, as measured by the novel instrument, would interact with these effects. The initial analysis determined that the survey instrument could be used to measure the use of narrowing and broadening strategies. The results of subsequent analyses showed that participants did engage in increased paraphrasing and elaborative inference generation for relevant sentences compared to irrelevant sentences when given relevancy instructions. However, participants did not produce increased bridging inferences for relevant sentences in response to relevancy instructions. In addition, narrowing and broadening strategies interacted with the relevancy effect as revealed through paraphrasing and elaborative inference scores. Regarding reading comprehension, a relevancy effect was also found, as participants had better memory for relevant content of the text when compared to irrelevant content. The results of the study provided additional insight into the cognitive processes that underlie the relevancy effect. In response to relevancy instructions, readers construct a richer text-base for relevant discourse information and also seem to engage in more coherence-building by activating additional prior knowledge. These processes likely underlie why readers have better memory for relevant text information. However, these relevancy effects in terms of elaborative inferences are moderated by the degree to which individual readers engage in narrowing and broadening strategies. Readers who engaged in broadening strategies elaborated more on irrelevant sentences than those scoring low on the construct, which aligns with the findings of previous research. However, readers who engaged in narrowing strategies also elaborated more on irrelevant sentences than those scoring low on narrowing. This finding is inconsistent with prior research and may speak to the need for refining the RPAI.


Advisors: Joseph P. Magliano.||Committee members: Anne Britt; Amanda Durik; Matthew McCrudden; Keith Millis; Stephen Tonks.||Includes bibliographical references.||Includes illustrations.


72 pages




Northern Illinois University

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