What Causes Children's Failures to Detect Inconsistencies in Text? Representation Versus Comparison Difficulties

Stella Vosniadou, P. David Pearson, Theresa Rogers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

46 Citations (Scopus)


In two experiments we investigated whether elementary school children's difficulties in detecting inconsistencies in text are related to their failure to represent each of two inconsistent propositions in memory or to their failure to compare the representations of the inconsistent propositions to each other once each has been represented in memory. Overall, we considered three kinds of inconsistencies: falsehoods (a textual proposition conflicts with a potentially known fact), factual contradictions (one textual proposition conflicts with another textual proposition, and one of these propositions is a potentially known fact), and textual contradictions (one textual proposition conflicts with a second textual proposition, and neither is a known fact). In Experiment 1, 80 first-, third-, and fifth-grade children were asked to detect familiar falsehoods and unfamiliar factual contradictions in narratives. Results showed that the familiar falsehoods were easier to detect than the unfamiliar factual contradictions. In Experiment 2 (N = 30), however, when the familiarity variable was controlled, no differences in inconsistency detection were observed among falsehoods, factual contradictions, and textual contradictions. In addition, in both experiments an analysis of the recall protocols indicated that detection failures were related more to incomplete recall of the inconsistent information than to difficulty in comparing the inconsistent propositions. The results indicated that children's inconsistency detection failures are related more to difficulties in forming accurate mental representations of textual propositions than to difficulties in comparing the inconsistent information once it is represented in memory. We suggest that greater attention be paid to the conditions that facilitate text representation because those conditions are likely to affect comprehension monitoring as well.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)27-39
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Educational Psychology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1988
Externally publishedYes


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