UNH Psychology Professor Wins Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award

photo of Edward O'Brien
Professor of psychology Edward J. O’Brien has won the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award from the Society for Text and Discourse, an honor shared with Jerome L. Myers of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

In choosing the recipients, the Society noted that the two scholars have made a singularly important contribution to the field of text processing through their Resonance Model, which the Society calls theoretically elegant as well as meticulously researched.

The combined research from 30 years of lab work by O’Brien and Myers has focused on the extent to which passive activation processes (i.e., resonance) in the brain play a role in comprehending text. In order for comprehension to be successful, says O’Brien, readers must have quick and easy access to large amounts of information to both interpret the author’s intended meaning and to fill in information not explicitly stated in the text. Two major components of the comprehension process are those involved in the activation of the knowledge necessary for comprehension and those involved in the integration of that information. O’Brien and Myers’s research focuses on the former.

In the Resonance Model, the notion that an individual actively or consciously searches memory for relevant information during reading is rejected, explains O’Brien. Instead, as a reader encodes information, that information sends a signal to all of memory, much like hitting a tuning fork sends out vibrations in all directions. The process is passive and outside the awareness of the reader. Any information in memory that is related to the signal has the potential to become active in memory and part of the comprehension process, whether the activated information facilitates or hinders comprehension.

O’Brien and Myers’s research on passive activation has been highly influential. Most current models of reading incorporate their findings.

“Ed and Jerry’s development of the Resonance Model ushered in an era in which the role of memory-based text processing is now a fundamental assumption,” wrote the Society in their award announcement, also noting that “at least as important have been the generations of researchers who learned how to think scientifically and to conduct rigorous research from these two prolific mentors.”

The Society for Text and Discourse is an international society of researchers who investigate all aspects of discourse processing and text analysis.

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