Supporting historical understandings with refutation texts

Amalia M. Donovan*, Jennifer Zhan, David N. Rapp

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Readers depend on prior knowledge to successfully comprehend texts. However, they often hold misconceptions, defined here as inaccurate or incomplete conceptualizations, which can interfere with the acquisition of information and the subsequent use of any acquired knowledge. A variety of approaches have focused on modifying text content to address readers’ misconceptions with the goal of supporting accurate understandings. One empirically validated modification involves the use of refutation texts, which identify a misconception, tag it as inappropriate, and provide a more accurate account. To date, the success of refutation texts has predominantly been studied and applied in science domains (e.g., physics). The current project investigated whether similar benefits might also emerge for history topics. Across two experiments, we pre-screened participants for misconceptions about a well-known event in American history and the Civil Rights Movement: Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her bus seat. Participants read either a refutation or non-refutation text about the topic and completed measures assessing their moment-by-moment comprehension and post-reading memory of the material. Refutation texts led to greater learning gains in terms of recall task performance and questionnaire responses than did non-refutation texts, providing preliminary evidence for the utility of refutations for supporting readers’ valid historical understandings. Participants also read refutation content faster than non-refutation content, indicating differential processing. The results are discussed with respect to the generalizability of refutation texts for history learning as informed by contemporary models of knowledge revision.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
JournalContemporary Educational Psychology
StatePublished - Jul 2018


  • Comprehension
  • History
  • Learning
  • Misconceptions
  • Refutation texts
  • Text processing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


Dive into the research topics of 'Supporting historical understandings with refutation texts'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this