Contextual knowledge reduces demands on working memory during reading

Lisa M.Soederberg Miller, Jason A. Cohen, Arthur Wingfield

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

57 Scopus citations


An experiment is reported in which young, middle-aged, and older adults read and recalled ambiguous texts either with or without the topic title that supplied contextual knowledge. Within each of the age groups, the participants were divided into those with high or low working memory (WM) spans, with available WM capacity further manipulated by the presence or absence of an auditory target detection task concurrent with the reading task. Differences in reading efficiency (reading time per proposition recalled) between low WM span and high WM span groups were greater among readers who had access to contextual knowledge relative to those who did not, suggesting that contextual knowledge reduces demands on WM capacity. This position was further supported by the finding that increased age and attentional demands, two factors associated with reduced WM capacity, exaggerated the benefits of contextual knowledge on reading efficiency. The relative strengths of additional potential predictors of reading efficiency (e.g., interest, effort, and memory beliefs), along with knowledge, WM span, and age, are reported. Findings showed that contextual knowledge was the strongest predictor of reading efficiency even after controlling for the effects of all of the other predictors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1355-1367
Number of pages13
JournalMemory and Cognition
Issue number6
StatePublished - Sep 2006
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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