Accessibility and situation models in narrative comprehension

Daniel G. Morrow, Steven L. Greenspan, Gordon H. Bower

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We investigated the accessibility of information from situation models during narrative comprehension. Subjects memorized a diagram of a building and then read narratives describing a person moving through the building in order to achieve a goal. To probe accessibility, we periodically interrupted the narrative by presenting the names of two objects, and subjects decided whether the objects were located in the same or different rooms of the building. Experiment 1 investigated objects' accessibility after goal sentences (e.g., Wilbur walked from the storage area into the wash room). Objects from the goal room, where the character was located, were most accessible. Furthermore, accessibility of the objects tended to decrease as the distance from the location room to the probed room increased, suggesting that the situation model preserves some information about distance. Experiment 2 indicated that accessibility depended on the location of the protagonist in the situation model rather than recency of mention of the rooms in the text. Finally, Experiment 3 showed that after path sentences, where the character is on the path heading toward the goal (e.g., While Wilbur was walking through the storage area toward the wash room, he looked at the loading dock), both the path and goal rooms are highly accessible. This finding reflects the fact that the two rooms are relevant to the incomplete motion event. Thus, information accessibility depends more on the described situations than on the surface organization of the narrative.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)165-187
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of Memory and Language
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1987
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Artificial Intelligence


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