The Experience of Reading

Alan Tonnies Moore and Eric Schwitzgebel 

Consciousness and Cognition (forthcoming)

What do people consciously experience when they read? There has been almost no rigorous research on this question, and opinions diverge radically among both philosophers and psychologists. We describe three studies of the phenomenology of reading and its relationship to memory of textual detail and general cognitive abilities. We find three main results. First, there is substantial variability in reports about reading experience, both within and between participants. Second, reported reading experience varies with passage type: passages with dialogue prompted increased reports of inner speech, while passages with vivid visual detail prompted increased reports of visual imagery. Third, reports of visual imagery experiences, inner speech experiences, and experiences of conscious visual perception of the words on the page were at best weakly related to general cognitive abilities and memory of visual and auditory details.

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