Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


The present research assessed the impact of prior knowledge on locating information in textbooks. Undergraduate students enrolled in an introductory psychology course located answers to questions related to fall- or spring-term course content in an introductory-level psychology textbook. In Study 1, students were tested in January when they were familiar with fall-, but not spring-term, content. Students found more answers to fall- than spring-term questions. Fall-term exam was correlated with fall search, even after partialling out verbal competence. In Study 2, students were tested in May. There were no differences in search success for fall- and spring-term questions. Fall and spring exams were correlated with fall and spring search, respectively, even after accounting for verbal competence. In the third study, three groups of students were compared--one in September when both fall- and spring-term content were unfamilar, one in January when fall-term but not spring-term content was familar, and one in May when content of both terms was familiar. When matched for fall exam performance, students tested in January and May found more answers to fall-term questions than September students. May students found more answers to spring-term questions than January and September students. The correlational results of the third study indicated that factors other than prior knowledge play a significant role in text search.;Students did not choose better sections of text when searching familiar material than when searching unfamiliar material. Study 3 examined the impact of prior knowledge on the components of a cognitive model of text search. Prior knowledge did not affect category selection (i.e., number of pages inspected) or integration (i.e., number of pages inspected more than once), but did impact extraction efficiency. Prior knowledge decreased the likelihood that information would be missed when the page containing the sought-after information was inspected. Recommendations were made regarding how to improve students' search inefficiencies.



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