Establishing and accessing referents in discourse

Gregory L. Murphy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Four experiments explored the processes by which people understand references. Subjects read naturalistic stories one sentence at a time, and their reading-comprehension times were recorded. The first two experiments investigated differences between definite and indefinite reference. Their results suggest that establishing a new discourse referent (as indicated by an indefinite article or pronoun) produces longer comprehension times than referring to an already existing referent. The last two experiments investigated reference to one versus two discourse referents. They showed that accessing more referents led to longer reading times even when the referring sentences were identical. The results are explained in terms of a discourse model approach to comprehension. According to this view, readers construct a mental model of the discourse domain, and the ease of comprehension is related (in part) to the number of elements in the model that are accessed and the operations performed on them.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)489-497
Number of pages9
JournalMemory & Cognition
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 1984

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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