Studying Journal Articles under Time Pressure
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The purpose of this dissertation is to understand how students distribute their attention while reading academic journal articles under time pressure. Given that most of the reading done in university is commonly time-sensitive and task-dependent, this dissertation explores how students actually shift their attention across the discrete sections of a journal article in the available time to identify and extract task-relevant information. Addressing gaps in the literature, the experiments in this dissertation observe the impact of the following three factors on strategic shifts in attention during study: (1) varied time conditions; (2) the presence/absence of summary information; and (3) the experience of the reader in terms of education level. The experimental methods used in this series of studies are consistent across all three chapters. Participants are given two 5-page academic journal articles to read on cognitive psychology for an impending test. Participants’ eye movement data are analyzed for the total adjusted viewing time the eyes spend in each section of the article, i.e., viewing time in each section was divided by the number of words in each section. The experiments in Chapter 2 examine overt attention when studying with and without a time constraint. Participants were given either 2 minutes of study time or unlimited study time. Analyses of the eye movement data reveal a reduced reading effect both when study time is restricted and unlimited. Specifically, the results showed that as time progresses, participants tend to read less and skim more, with the largest amount of adjusted time being spent on the Abstract. Chapter 3 examines further the apparent importance of the Abstract when reading under time constraint. It investigates whether people allocate more attention to the Abstract relative to other sections of the journal article based on its position or its summary content. Also, Chapter 3 explores whether the presence of an Abstract impacts what people read next in the article. Participants are given a limited time in which to read one of two versions of the articles to read, one version with an Abstract, the other without. The findings show that position, rather than summary content, seems to explain the amount of adjusted viewing time on the Abstract. Additionally, the summary information contained in an Abstract impacts what people read next in the article. Chapter 4 examines the extent to which participants’ education level impacts their use of a skimming strategy for studying. Here, participants form three different groups based on their year of study: graduates, senior undergraduates (3rd and 4th year), and junior undergraduates (1st and 2nd year). Overall, the results suggest that, when studying journal articles under time pressure, skimming behaviour changes from a primarily linear-skimming strategy (reading from beginning to end) to a more targeted-skimming strategy with increased education level. Finally, in the General Discussion in Chapter 5, a summary of the findings of this dissertation is considered in light of the literature on complex factors that impact attention and information-gain. The chapter also outlines hypotheses for future testing of overt attention while reading journal articles under time pressure.