Date of Award

Fall 12-18-2017

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department


Degree Name

Master of Arts (AM/MA)

Degree Type



Structure building, the ability to build a coherent mental model of any narrative, requires the identification and integration of important parts of that narrative, as well as the suppression of irrelevant details. Critically, while individual differences in structure building have been shown to have important consequences in the classroom, little has been concluded about underlying deficits and causal mechanisms of low structure building ability. In the present study, we tested the theory that an impaired ability to suppress unimportant details is low structure builders’ sole deficit (Gernsbacher, 1990). We presented participants with educationally authentic text materials that offered varying degrees of structural support, and tested whether structure building predicted their performance, after accounting for working memory and mindwandering, on a main point identification task, a short-answer test of deep-level questions, and a relatedness ratings task. Contradicting the existing theory, we found that those with low structure building ability experienced (relative to high structure builders) a previously unknown deficit: an impaired ability to identify the most important parts of the text. We also found structure-building-related performance differences on our two other comprehension measures; notably, these differences could not fully be accounted for by the main point identification deficit. Lastly, we affirmed current textbook scaffolding practices, but also identified areas needing further improvement in order to specifically bolster low structure builders’ abilities.


English (en)

Chair and Committee

Mark McDaniel

Committee Members

Henry Roediger III, Julie Bugg


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