Message Intensity and Cognitive Representations of Discourse Effects on Inferential Processing



    1. Diane M. Badzinski is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Speech Communication, University of Nebraska—Lincoln. This article is based on a doctoral dissertation written under the direction of Joseph N. Cappella. The author would like to thank the following members of her committee for their advice at various stages of the project: Joe Cappella, Mary Anne Fitzpatrick, Joanne Cantor, Jim Dillard, and Robin Chapman. Special appreciation is also extended to the Madison Metropolitan School District and to the staff and students of Thoreau Elementary for their cooperation on this project.
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Two experiments were conducted to examine the influence of intensity on inferential processing. It was predicted that the likelihood and speed of inferential processing for high-intensity texts should be greater than for texts low in intensity. On a recognition task, both adults and children falsely recognized implicit text information after processing high-intensity texts. Further, high-intensity passages triggered inference making during recall more readily than did the texts low in intensity. In general, speed of inferential processing did not differ as a function of the intensity manipulation. Although there was some evidence indicating that fourth grade children were more sensitive to the manipulations than were kindergartners, there were no clear age-related differences in children's ability to make inferences. The results are interpreted from a general associative memory model.