The Impact of Language Proficiency, Attention, and Working Memory on Situational Model Updating

Omar Carrasco, University of Texas at El Paso


When individuals read a narrative text, they construct a mental representation known as a situational model to comprehend the unfolding story. These models require updates at meaningful changes in the story to reflect current information accurately. Existing research highlights the attentional and working memory demands of these updating mechanisms. Surprisingly, there is a lack of exploration into the role of language proficiency in these processes. In this study, bilingual English and Spanish speakers read narratives depicting everyday activities in their dominant and non-dominant languages and intermittently performed a recognition task related to character or spatial information. The use of bilingual participants allowed for examining within-individual differences in reading proficiency and its potential impact on situational model updating. The results revealed different updating patterns based on attentional capacity and language proficiency levels. At low levels of attentional capacity, participants exhibited patterns inconsistent with incremental or global updating. However, participants engaged more in global updating at higher levels of attentional capacity. Similarly, lower language proficiency levels exhibited patterns inconsistent with incremental or global updating, suggesting difficulties in constructing and updating situational models. This was supported by findings of longer reaction times and lower accuracy in individuals with lower language proficiency levels. However, participants with higher language proficiency engaged in global updating of spatial information but reactivation (rather than updating) of character information any time a meaningful change in the text occurred, suggesting that in the current study, participants may have prioritized maintaining information about all characters represented in the stories. These findings underscore the influence of attentional capacity and language proficiency on situational model updating. Individuals build and update more cohesive situational models at higher language proficiency levels due to the reduced attentional demands of language processing. Additionally, the reduced demands for language processing at higher levels of language proficiency allow individuals to reallocate attentional resources to aspects of the story they deem relevant.

Subject Area

Linguistics|Cognitive psychology|Behavioral psychology

Recommended Citation

Carrasco, Omar, "The Impact of Language Proficiency, Attention, and Working Memory on Situational Model Updating" (2023). ETD Collection for University of Texas, El Paso. AAI10689052.