Monday 15 April 2013

Transportation and Levels of Processing

Melanie Green and her colleagues have shown how narrative increases how strongly readers are transported into what they are reading, and how transportation in turn increases effects of reading, such as persuasiveness. You can read about this, for instance, in Green’s chapter with Karen Dill in the newly published 2013 Handbook of media psychology.

In a recent article, Adrian Janit, Georgina Hammock, and Deborah Richardson (2011) have used Green’s principle of transportation to investigate whether the narrative mode facilitates learning of a topic in psychology. In a first experiment 69 psychology students completed the study. They were randomly assigned to read either a 3501-word story about a dissociative fugue state, or a 792-word excerpt on the same issue from a textbook of abnormal psychology. Twenty propositions were common to both the story and the textbook excerpt, and these were used as items in a quiz that was given after reading and again three weeks later. In addition, participants were also asked to recall as much as possible in their own words about dissociative fugue states. Participants also completed a 12-item test of narrative transportation. The researchers found that those who read the story did significantly better on the quiz and in free-recall than did those who read the textbook excerpt, and the effect was mediated by the extent of participants’ transportation into the text they read.

In a second experiment, which was a replication of the first, 86 participants completed all the measures. As before it had a story-only group and a textbook-excerpt-only group, but in addition another group who read both the story and the textbook excerpt (as well as a fourth group based on manipulation of the appearance of the text that I won’t discuss here). In this study the best scores on the quiz immediately after reading and three weeks later were achieved by the group that read both the story and the textbook excerpt, and this group also achieved the best scores in free recall. Again the effect was mediated by transportation.

I don’t think I have seen a connection made between the idea of transportation and an idea which is strongly established in research on memory. It’s the idea of levels of processing, first published by Craik and Lockhart (1972). It is that as information enters the brain/mind it goes through various levels of processing, first sensory analyses, then deeper perceptual analyses and recognition, then yet deeper conceptual analyses that lead to meaning and implication. Craik and Lockhart’s idea was that the more deeply the information is processed, then the more strongly and the more elaborately it is encoded in memory, and the more memorable it becomes. Janit et al.’s study suggests that transportation might achieve some of its effects by enabling reading material to be processed more deeply, and hence to be better remembered.

Craik, F. I. M., & Lockhart, R. S. (1972). Levels of processing: A framework for memory research. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior, 11, 671-684.

Green, M. C., & Dill, K., E. (2013). Engaging with stories and characters: Learning, persuasion, and transportation into narrative worlds. In K. E. Dill (Ed.), Oxford Handbook of Media Psychology (pp. 449-461). New York: Oxford University Press.

Janit, A. S., Hammock, G. S., & Richardson, D. S. (2011). The power of fiction: Reading stories in abnormal psychology. International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 5.
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