Bransford and Johnson found that the ability to understand messages is based not only on the comprehender's knowledge of language but also on his/her general knowledge of the world. They gave identical untitled passages to three groups of adults: one group was told what the passage was about before they read it, another group was told what the passage was about after they read it, and a third group was not told what the passage was about at all.
They found the people who were told what the passage was about before they read it comprehended and recalled the passage twice as well as the people in the other groups.
Bransford, J.D., & Johnson, M.K. (1972). Contextual prerequisites for understanding: Some investigations of comprehsnion and recall. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior, 11, 711-726.
- Pearson, Hansen, and Gordon found that young children use background knowledge to make sense of print. They asked 20 average second-grade children with the same overall intelligence and general reading level—10 who knew a great deal about spiders and 10 who knew little about spiders—to read a passage on spiders.
They found that the children who knew more about spiders before they read the passage were significantly better at answering questions on information in the passage than the children who knew less about spiders before they read the passage (p<.01).
Pearson, P.D., Hansen, J., & Gordon, C. (1979). The effect of background knowledge on young children's comprehension of explicit and implicit information. Journal of Reading Behavior, 11, 201-209.
- Taylor found that young children use background knowledge to make sense of print and that below-average readers do especially well on making sense of passages on familiar topics as opposed to unfamiliar topics. She gave 31 third- and fifth-grade children passages on a topic generally familiar to children—bird nest building—and on a topic generally unfamiliar to children—bee dancing. The third-grade children were average third-grade readers. The fifth-grade children were average and below-average fifth-grade readers.
Taylor found all the children recalled significantly more on the familiar topic than on the unfamiliar topic (p<.001). The below-average fifth-graders were the most affected by whether they were reading on a familiar or unfamiliar topic. They recalled as much as the third graders when reading on the unfamiliar topic (p<.05) but as much as the average fifth graders when reading on the familiar topic (p<.05).
Taylor, B. (1979). Good and poor readers' recall of familiar and unfamiliar text. Journal of Reading Behavior, 11, 375-388.
- Lipson found that young children use background knowledge to make sense of print. She gave 32 fourth-, fifth-, and sixth-grade average and above-average readers two passages, one was entitled First Communion and the other was entitled Bar Mitzvah. Half the children were attending a Catholic school and half were attending a Hebrew school.
Lipson found the children read significantly faster (p<.0005) and recalled significantly more (p<.001) on the culturally familiar passages than on the culturally unfamiliar passages.
Lipson, M.Y. (1983). The influence of religious affiliation on children's memory for text information. Reading Research Quarterly, XVIII, 448-457.
- Marr and Gormley (1982), Roberts (1988), and Recht and Leslie (1988) did similar studies and had similar findings:
- Marr, M.B., & Gormley, K. (1982). Children's recall of familiar and unfamiliar text, Reading Research Quarterly XVIII, 89-104.
- Roberts, T.A. (1988). Development of pre-instruction versus previous experience: Effects on factual and inferential comprehension, Reading Psychology, 9, 141-157.
- Recht, D.R., & Leslie, L. (1988). Effect of prior knowledge on good and poor readers' memory of text. Journal of Educational Psychology, 80, 16-20.