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Announcement: Cognitive Approaches to Reading


Accessed online or in downloadable form, WordNet allows users to tap intelligently into “a large lexical database of English” for the purpose of exploring concepts and their interrelations.

“Nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs are grouped into sets of cognitive synonyms (synsets), each expressing a distinct concept. Synsets are interlinked by means of conceptual-semantic and lexical relations. The resulting network of meaningfully related words and concepts can be navigated…. WordNet’s structure makes it a useful tool for computational linguistics and natural language processing.” In essence, WordNet can be conceived of as an extremely high-powered, interactive thesaurus that facilitates the rapid pursuit of conceptual relations and affiliations—a kind of “rapid prototyping” of language-based concepts. While reading a poem, for instance, one might use WordNet to explore the author’s choice of a particular word by seeing the word cocooned within a structured universe of alternative and related “synsets.” Developed by a team led by George A. Miller, Professor of Psychology, Emeritus, Princeton University.

Starter Links: WordNet | George A. Miller’s home page

The Coh-Metrix Project Transliteracies Research Report

The Coh-Metrix Project is run by the Institute for Intelligent Systems at the University of Memphis. The project utilizes two computer programs, Coh-Metrix and CohGIT, to assess the difficulty of a given text. Coh-Metrix analyzes a text for its overall “cohesion,” a major factor in textual coherence. CohGIT pinpoints the areas of a text where gaps in cohesion occur. The goal of the project is to provide writers and educators with the ability to match texts with proper target audiences.

“How do you know if something you’ve written is too difficult for your intended audience? How can you tell if your writing makes sense – for the reader you have in mind? Recent advances in the areas of cognitive science, computational linguistics, educational research, and computer science are guiding us toward answers to these questions. These answers are coming to life within a web-based text analysis tool called Coh-Metrix. Using advanced technologies, Coh-Metrix will allow readers, writers, educators, and researchers to instantly gauge the difficulty of written material, based on the target audience. Moreover, CohGIT, our cohesion gap identification tool, will pinpoint where potential problems are hiding within a text.

The potential contributions of Coh-Metrix and Coh-GIT are innumerable. This project will benefit writers, editors, researchers, and policy makers. Our overarching goal is to develop methods and standards for improving academic textbooks, thus improving students’ ability to understand and learn difficult course material” (from Coh-Metrix Project website).

Starter Links: Coh-Metrix Project | Coh-Metrix Demo | Summary of the Coh-Metrix Grant

Transliteracies Research ReportTransliteracies Research Report By Kim Knight

Andrew Elfenbein, “Cognitive Science and the History of Reading” (2006) Transliteracies Research Report

Elfenbein’s article, appearing in the March 2006 PMLA, attempts to bring together the disciplines of cognitive psychology and literary criticism in order to understand historical reading processes.

“Cognitive psychologists, like literary critics, have spent many years wrestling with the complexities of the reading process. Yet psychologists and critics ask fundamentally different questions about reading because their fields have contrasting methods of defining, analyzing, investigating, and evaluating it. As a result, the terms of one discipline do not apply directly to the other. Creating an interaction between the two requires constant, often skeptical translation across disciplinary boundaries. This essay will concern itself with developing such a translation, using it to investigate the history of reading audiences, and drawing conclusions about the significance of the scientific study of reading for literary critics.”

Starter Links and Resources:
Elfenbein, Andrew. “Cognitive Science and the History of Reading.” PMLA. 121.2 (2006): 484 – 500. | Cognitive Science, Humanities, and the Arts.

Transliteracies Research ReportTransliteracies Research Report By Kim Knight

Haptic Visuality (Laura U. Marks’s Touch: Sensuous Theory and Multisensory Media) Transliteracies Research Report

A concept developed by Laura U. Marks in the books The Skin of Film and Touch, haptic visuality refers to embodied spectatorship.

“Haptic criticism is a kind of criticism that assumes a tactile relation to one’s object — touching, more than looking. The notion of the haptic is sometimes used in art to refer to a lack of visual depth, so that the eye travels on the surface of an object rather than move into illusionistic depth. I prefer to describe haptic visuality as a kind of seeing that uses the eye like an organ of touch. Pre-Socratic philosophers thought of perception in terms of a contact between the perceived object and the person perceiving. Hence the haptic: looking, we touch the object with our eyes. This image might be a rather painful one, calling up raw, bruised eyeballs scraping against the brute stuff of the world. But I mean it to call up a way of seeing that does not posit a violent distance between the seer and the object, and hence cause pain when the two are brought together. In haptic visuality the contact can be as gentle as a caress.”

Starter Links: Mind the __GAP page on Laura U. Marks | Laura U. Marks’ article on Haptic Visuality in Framework: the Finnish Art Review”

Transliteracies Research ReportTransliteracies Research Report By Angus Forbes

Chris M. Herdman, “Research on Visual Word Recognition: From Verbal Learning to Parallel Distributed Processing” (1999)

Introductory essay for special issue of Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology on Visual Word Recognition research:

“Over the past 30 years, research on visual word recognition has contributed greatly to the understanding of how information is processed, represented, and accessed in the cognitive system. Today, word recognition continues to serve as a rich domain for modelling and investigating core issues in cognition. In addition, research on word recognition has been used to improve assessment and instruction of reading for children and adults. The following paragraphs provide a brief overview of some trends and developments in word recognition research over the past few decades. This overview is not meant to be exhaustive (or unbiased). My intent is to give readers from outside the area a feel for why word recognition is such an, important domain for cognitive research. ”

Starter Links & References: Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology (Dec. 1999) | Online version

Nicholas Dames, “Wave-Theories and Affective Physiologies: The Cognitive Strain in Victorian Novel Theories” (2004)

Article that studies a “wave-theory of novelistic affect,” according to which novel-reading is an experience characterized by “continual oscillation between ‘relaxing’ subplots … and the more rigidly hermeneutic drives of suspense and revelation that create a particularly rapt, if necessarily short-lived, form of attentiveness”:

“The picture given us by this body of theory is of reading as an automatic performance; it is less a conscious construal of meaning, as in contemporary reader-response theory, than a submission to the rhythms of the text. Thus E. S. Dallas’s description of reading as similar to musical performance: “Many lines of action which when first attempted require to be carried on by distinct efforts of volition become through practice mechanical, involuntary movements of which we are wholly unaware. In the act of reading we find the mind similarly at work for us, with a mechanical ease that is independent of our care….” Reading is, in short, reflexive: it is an act with ties closer to the autonomic actions of the body and spinal column than to higher cortical activities, since to read well is no longer to pay attention to the act of reading. It is the task of the physiologized critic, therefore, to bring into consciousness what (during the act of reading itself) is less than conscious–to elucidate the rhythms of automatic cognition that different literary forms configure differently.” (from article)

Starter Links & References: Print article, Victorian Studies 46.2 (2004): 206-216 | Online version in Project Muse (requires institutional subscription)

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience (1991)

Book that studies the experience of “concentration and deep experience” as opposed to that of distracted browsing or skimming:

“For more than two decades Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has been studying states of ‘optimal experience’—those times when people report feelings of concentration and deep enjoyment. These investigations have revealed that what makes experience genuinely satisfying is a state of consciousness called flow—a state of concentration so focused that it amounts to absolute absorption in an activity. People typically feel strong, alert, in effortless control, unselfconscious, and at the peak of their abilities. Both the sense of time and emotional problems seem to disappear, and there is an exhilarating feeling of transcendence…. With such goals, we learn to order the information that enters consciousness and thereby improve the quality of our lives.” (from publisher’s blurb on back cover)

Starter Links or References: Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience (New York: Harper Perennial, 1991) | Amazon.com “inside this book” excerpts