How Reading Difficulty Influences Mind-Wandering: The Theoretical Importance of Measuring Interest
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In many situations, increasing task difficulty decreases thoughts that are unrelated to the task (i.e., mind-wandering; see Smallwood & Schooler, 2006, for a review). However, Feng, D’Mello, and Graesser (2013) recently reported a discrepant finding in the context of reading. They showed that increasing the objective reading difficulty of passages (by decreasing word frequency and complicating sentence structure) actually increased mind-wandering. The primary goal of this work was to gain insight into the mechanism that drives this positive relation between objective reading difficulty and mind-wandering. This effect is investigated over three chapters. Chapter 1 demonstrates that the effect of objective difficulty on mind-wandering is confounded by differences in passage section-length between easy and hard passages when they are presented one sentence at a time. Chapter 2 more broadly explores the possibility that distinctive processing influences subjective impressions of passage difficulty and interest (which may consequently influence mind-wandering). And Chapter 3 shows that mind-wandering increases over time spent reading, which may be related to decreasing subjective interest. This research builds to the conclusion that subjective interest is of central theoretical importance to research on difficulty and mind-wandering: A manipulation designed to influence the difficulty of a task may also influence participants’ subjective interest in the task, which may in turn influence their tendency to mind-wander.