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Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)



First Advisor

Kenneth L. Beauchamp

First Committee Member

Joyce L. Garrett

Second Committee Member

Robert R. Hopkins

Third Committee Member

Helmut H. Reimer

Fourth Committee Member

R. Ann Zinck


To investigate the cognitive processes involved in language comprehension, this research examined the role of naturally occurring mental imagery in facilitating college students' understanding of lengthy narrative prose. During hour-long individual interviews, 40 undergraduates read silently or listened to a 1700 word short story. Subjects were asked to free recall as much as they could of the story and to answer higher level comprehension questions which involved verbal reasoning strategies such as inference and drawing conclusions regarding character development and motivation, theme, plot, and personal relevance. Subjects were also asked to describe the mental images they experienced, if any, and to rate the vividness of their mental images. Two instruments designed for this study, the Prose Comprehension Interview and the Mental Imagery Interview, were used to elicit subjects' oral self-reports on their comprehension and use of mental imagery. All subjects reported the existence of mental images, and the number of reported images was related significantly to literal comprehension, as measured by the number of memories reported on the free recall task. The number of reported images was not related significantly to subject responses on higher level comprehension questions. Although listeners reported significantly more images than readers, there was no significant difference between the comprehension of readers and listeners, at either the literal level or the higher levels of comprehension. A content analysis of the images reported by good comprehenders (the 7 top scoring subjects) and poor comprehenders (the 7 bottom scoring subjects) revealed qualitatively, as well as quantitatively different images between the two groups. Good comprehenders not only reported more images, but they also reported abstract, inferential, and objective images more often than did the poor comprehenders, who reported concrete, literal, and subjective images more often. Good comprehenders appeared to distinguish themselves from poor comprehenders by their ability to use their images to reason inferentially, draw conclusions, and make appropriate judgments. The findings of this study suggest that it is not simply the existence and frequency of mental images that facilitate reading and listening comprehension. It appears, instead, that the quality of our mental images, along with the way we reason and make use of our images, also contribute to our comprehension of the written and spoken word.



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