Sadness facilitates “deeper” reading comprehension: a behavioural and eye tracking study

Cognition and Emotion 38 (1):171-179 (2024)
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Abstract

Reading is one of the most common everyday activities, yet research elucidating how affective influence reading processes and outcomes is sparse with inconsistent results. To investigate this question, we randomly assigned participants (N = 136) to happiness (positive affect), sadness (negative affect), and neutral video-induction conditions prior to engaging in self-paced reading of a long, complex science text. Participants completed assessments targeting multiple levels of comprehension (e.g. recognising factual information, integrating different textual components, and open-ended responses of concepts from memory) after reading and after a week-long delay. Results indicated that the Sadness (vs. Happiness) condition had higher comprehension scores, with the largest effects emerging for assessments targeting deeper levels comprehension immediately after reading. Eye-tracking analyses revealed that such benefits may be partly driven by sustained attentional focus over the 20-minute reading session. We discuss results with respect to theories on affect, cognition, and text comprehension.

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