Validating the outcome of an action : the impacts of goal and semantic information
Chan, Greta Ching
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Narratives are comprised of characters performing goal-direct actions that are executed to achieve some outcome(s). Understanding why an action is performed by a character in a story involves an assessment of the alignment of that action with a goal, but in addition may involve an assessment of whether the action can lead to the obtainment of the object of that goal. How do readers determine whether an action will or will not lead to a desired outcome? This dissertation was designed to explore a potential answer to this question. Validation is a process in which the reader evaluates the plausibility of an outcome that is preceded by an action. For example, Dorothy poured the bucket of water on the fire (action). The fire went out (outcome). Most readers will consider this outcome plausible because it is commonly known that water extinguishes fire. In this example, the plausibility of the outcome is evaluated against the laws of nature. In some other cases, the plausibility of an outcome is constrained by psychological, instead of physical, factors. For example: Joe went to a bar (action). He got a beer (outcome). How likely that Joe, who goes to a bar, will get a beer? Would that outcome be more plausible if an explicit goal to get a beer was established---Joe really wanted a beer? Such a goal would provide an important causal antecedent to the action that leads to the outcome. The purpose of this study is to investigate if validation is affected by the presence of an explicit goal and level of semantic constraint between an action and its outcome. In two experiments, participants read a set of three-sentence micro stories. For example, S1: Joe really wanted a beer (goal present) / Joe finished a hard day at work (goal absent). S2: He went to a bar after work (high semantic constraint) / He went to a restaurant after work (low semantic constraint). S3: He got a beer and felt much better. S1 describes an explicit goal or initiating event that would explain the action in S2. S2 varies in the extent that it has semantic constraint with the outcome in S3. It is important to note that S1 and S2 always provide the causal antecedents sufficient to explain the outcome in S3. Validation was assessed by measuring the reading time of S3. It is assumed that faster reading time is indicative of the perception of more plausible outcomes. A causal constraint hypothesis postulates that the validation of an outcome will be facilitated by having an explicitly stated goal that causally explains why the action would lead to the outcome. This is because the goal elaborates the action, leading to the activation of world knowledge supported by the outcome. A semantic constraint hypothesis postulates that validating outcomes can be supported by conceptual overlap between an outcome and an action that causally leads to it. For example, validating that Joe was able to get a beer would be relatively more facilitated by the action of him going to a bar than the action of him going to a restaurant. Presumably, going to a bar would be more likely to lead to the activation of alcoholic drinks than going to a restaurant. In Experiment 1, the presence of the goal in S1 was manipulated along with the level of semantic constraint between the action (in S2) and the outcome (in S3). However, as is noted in the materials for Experiment 1, the goal object (e.g., beer) is present in both the goal sentence and the outcome sentence. As such, Experiment 2 was conducted to determine if the impact of the presence of an explicit goal affects validation over and above the presence of a goal object. In Experiment 2, the initiating-event condition (Joe finished a hard day at work) was replaced by a goal-object-only condition (Joe saw a beer bottle) and the remaining parts of the materials were identical to those in Experiment 1. In Experiment 1, both the causal constraint hypothesis and the semantic constraint hypothesis were supported. The outcome statements were read faster in the goal present condition (compared to the initiating-event condition) and in the high-semantic-constraint condition (compared to the low-semantic constraint condition). This suggests that the presence of goals and semantic constraint between the action and outcome facilitate validation in parallel contributions. This result is consistent with the line of research that demonstrates that a supporting context facilitates the retrieval of knowledge that supports the perceptions of plausibility of events and their integration with the prior discourse context. Experiment 2 was conducted to investigate the sole impacts of an explicit goal on plausibility judgment controlling for the impacts of noun overlap between S1 and S3 (i.e., the mentioning of the goal object in both S1 and S3). In Experiment 2, only the causal constraint hypothesis was supported. It was demonstrated that the presence of an explicit goal is over and above the presence of a goal object. Readers make inferences when reading. The plausibility of these inferences is checked against background knowledge. This process is called validation in some literature. The results of the present study are consistent with the literature that demonstrates that the outcome of validation (or plausibility judgment) is affected by two factors: Causal and semantic relations among sentences. An event is considered plausible if it has a causal or semantic relation with a preceding event.