Figure 124

Colour-naming time in the Stroop task as a function of whether or not participants had been asked to guess the instrument in preceding sentences, and as a function of whether the words on the Stroop test were in or out of context with the preceding sentences. Based on data in Dosher and Corbett (1982).

McKoon and Ratcliff (1986) found that the number of errors on critical test words was no higher than on control words when they were immediately preceded on the recognition memory test by the neutral word "ready". However, when they were preceded by a word from the relevant sentence (e.g., "actress"), there was an increase in the number of errors to the critical test words. The implication of these slightly complicated findings is that the inferences were not generated fully, which is in line with the minimalist hypothesis. However, the fact that they were formed to a limited extent provides some support for the constructionists.

Evidence opposing the constructionist position and indicating the importance of the distinction between automatic and strategic inferences was obtained by Dosher and Corbett (1982). They used instrumental inferences (e.g., a sentence such as "Mary stirred her coffee" has "spoon" as its instrumental inference). In order to decide whether participants generated these instrumental inferences during reading, Dosher and Corbett made use of a somewhat unusual procedure. It is known from research on the Stroop effect that the time taken to name the colour in which a word is printed is affected if the word has recently been activated. Thus, if presentation of the sentence "Mary stirred her coffee" activates the word "spoon", then this should slow the time taken to name the colour in which the word "spoon" is printed on the Stroop task. In a control (out-of-context) condition, the words presented on the Stroop task bore no relationship to the preceding sentences. There was no evidence that the instrumental inferences had been formed with normal reading instructions (see Figure 12.4). However, when the participants were instructed to guess the instrument in each sentence, then there were effects on the Stroop task.

What do these findings mean? First, they indicate clearly that whether an inference is drawn can depend on the reader's intentions or goals, which is one of the central assumptions made by McKoon and Ratcliff (1992). Second, the findings are very much at variance with the constructionist position. It is necessary to infer the instrument used in stirring coffee to attain full understanding, but the evidence indicates that such instrumental inferences are not normally drawn.

McKoon and Ratcliff (1992) assumed that automatic inferences are drawn to establish local coherence for information contained in working memory, but that global inferences (inferences connecting widely separated pieces of textual information) are not drawn automatically. They tested these assumptions with short texts containing a global goal (e.g., assassinating a president) and one or two local or subordinate

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