Date of Award

8-2010

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Major

School Psychology

Major Professor

Christopher H. Skinner

Committee Members

Sherry Bain, Richard Saudargas, Amy Skinner

Abstract

Seductive details (SDs) are interesting, but not necessarily relevant, information that may be included in text to capture students’ attention. Unfortunately, including such details often hinders learning. Schraw (1998) differentiated between context-independent (i.e., interesting without surrounding context) and context-dependent (i.e., interesting only in light of surrounding context) SDs.

In the first study, 388 undergraduate students read six paragraphs describing Sigmund Freud’s psychosexual stages (i.e., target material). Participants in four groups also read one of two biographical paragraphs. The biographical paragraphs contained SDs about Freud that were either context-dependent or -independent to the target material and presented before (primacy) or after (recency) the target-material paragraphs or not at all (Control). After reading, students took a quiz. Quiz performance was not influenced by the type of SDs but rather its placement relative to the target text. Students in the primacy conditions performed worse than students in the recency and control conditions. Thus, both types of SDs reduced learning when they were presented at the beginning of the text.

Study 2 examined a potential interaction between SDs and a graphic organizer (GO). GOs are designed to help learners make connections among ideas in the text by visually representing the concepts to be learned (Ausubel, 1960; Robinson & Kiewra, 1995). In Study 2, 207 undergraduate students read the same target material from Study 1. Depending on condition, the participants also read the context-dependent biographical paragraph (SD only), read a GO that linked the SDs to the target material (GO only), read both (GO + SD), or only read the target material (Control). After reading, students took a quiz. Participants in the GO only group and the Control group performed significantly better on the quiz items than participants in the SD only group. There was no significant difference between the Control group and the GO + SD group.

Results from both studies suggest that the GO mitigated the seductive details effect but did not reverse it. There is evidence for both the diversion hypothesis (priming inappropriate schema) and the distraction hypothesis (focusing the reader’s attention on the SDs as opposed to the target material).

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