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Candidate Name: Johnathan Mercer

Major:  SPAN

Advisor:  Ronald Leow, Ph.D.


“Pushing for Processing: The Roles of Depth of Processing, Working Memory and Reactivity on Comprehension”


VanPatten’s Primacy of Meaning Principle claims that second language learners process for meaning before they process for form. Previous research has empirically tested this principle with varied results (Greenslade, Bowden, & Sanz, 1999; Leow, Hsieh, & Moreno, 2008; Morgan-Short, Heil, Botero-Moriarty, & Ebert, 2012; VanPatten, 1990; Wong, 2001). In all of these studies, however, processing for form has been operationalized either by circling the specific forms (for the reading modality, e.g., Greenslade et al., 1999; Leow et al., 2008; Wong, 2001) or by placing a check mark on a piece of paper (for the aural modality, e.g., VanPatten, 1990; Wong, 2001). As Leow et al. (2008) note, in their study, this resulted in a low depth of processing, and, therefore, this low depth of processing of form may not have been sufficient to have the detrimental effect on meaning postulated in the Primacy of Meaning Principle. Morgan-Short et al. (2012), who conceptually replicated Leow et al. (2008) with the addition of a Non-Think-Aloud group, found that level of processing was positively related to comprehension. Nonetheless, as they followed the original study’s a posteriori coding of depth of processing, their processing groups were not random, and the potential for mediating variables to have played a role cannot be excluded. It was thought that one such variable might be working memory, as this variable has been found to be related to both reading comprehension (e.g., Harrington & Sawyer, 1992), the assessment task, and multitask performance (e.g., König et al., 2005), given the dual task nature of processing for form and meaning (pointed out in Morgan-Short et al., 2012).

In this study, I randomly assigned participants to six groups, partitioned by Depth of Processing (DP), which included three depths, and the Think-Aloud vs. Non-Think-Aloud groups (TANTA). The three depths of processing, based on Leow et al.’s (2008) descriptions of processing levels from their concurrent verbal reports, include: Processing for Meaning Only, Processing for Meaning and for Form at the Level of Identifying (operationalized by instructing participants to click on past forms), and Processing for Meaning and for Form at the Level of Interpreting (operationalized by requiring participants to click once on imperfect forms and twice on preterit forms). Data gathered revealed that processing for form at the depth of interpreting had a negative impact on L2 comprehension, and that thinking aloud positively affected performance. No evidence was found for a relationship between amount of processing and comprehension, or between working memory capacity (WMC) and comprehension. Additionally, no interaction was found between any of the three main variables (DP, WMC, TANTA) in terms of their relationship to and/or impact on comprehension.

Speaker(s): Johnathan Mercer

Department: Graduate School of the Arts and Sciences 

Event Type: Doctoral Defense 

Date and Time: Tuesday, December 16, 2014 at 11:00am

Location: Edward B. Bunn, S.J. Intercultural Center, 450, 37th and O St., N.W., Washington