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Understanding Causal Coherence Relations

By G. Mulder


The research reported in this dissertation focuses on the cognitive processes and representations involved in understanding causal coherence relations in text. Coherence relations are the meaning relations between the information units in the text, such as Cause-Consequence. These relations can be made explicit by means of causal connectives, such as because, or other linguistic indicators of coherence relations. The main assumption underlying this thesis is that causal coherence relations are part of the meaning representation readers construct on the basis of the text. In a series of experiments, the cognitive status of this central assumption is investigated further. The experimental results corroborate the central claim that causal coherence relations are part of the meaning representation of the text, but at the same time allow for a more detailed account of the processes and representation involved in understanding causal coherence relations. To be more precise, the research allows for the conclusion that understanding causal coherence relations is a cognitive process in which readers construct a situational representation of the relation. Three major results contribute to this conclusion. First, evidence is obtained that shows that the presence of explicit indicators (e.g. connectives) influence an inferential process that consists of encoding the general knowledge underlying the causal connection. For instance, when readers interpret the sequence 'John's body was covered with bruises. He had fallen of his bike', the knowledge that falling of a bike may cause bruises is incorporated in the meaning representation. Second, in a recognition experiment evidence was only obtained for a situational representation of the causal coherence relation. Third, the experimental results indicate that readers can make immediate use of knowledge of text structure during the interpretation of causal coherence relations. This knowledge allows them to generate expectations about how the incoming text will be related to the previous context. These results indicate how the understanding of causal relations can be characterized as a process in which the reader integrates explicit text and background knowledge (both general and text structural) to form a situational representation of the information in the text

Topics: Letteren, text, processing, causality, coherence, causal relations, meaning representation, inference, experiments, connectives, discourse, psycholinguistics
Year: 2008
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