Thematic knowledge structures in the understanding and generation of narratives

B. J. Reiser, J. B. Black, W. G. Lehnert

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Plot units are thematic representations of patterns of goal relationships and events used in comprehension. Subjects’ sensitivity to these thematic patterns in stories were examined in three experiments. In the first experiment, subjects were asked to sort stories into groups that had “the same kind of plot.” The results showed that subjects sorted according to thematic patterns (instead of specific story content): For example, they would distinguish between stories involving competition and retaliation and those involving competition and change of mind. A second experiment showed that when asked to write stories with “the sanie kind of plot” as a set of exemplar stories, subjects wrote stories with essentially the same configuration of plot units as the exemplars. A third experiment showed that another group of subjects sorted these subject‐written stories into the same groups as the experimenter‐written stories of Experiment 1. These studies also showed that subjects were sensitive to a more abstract level of conceptualization than the thematic patterns tested, based on evaluations of the plans of the protagonists. In general, the results suggested that subjects considered the actions undertaken by the protagonist to resolve a problem to be more central components of the thematic representation than the problem situation motivating those actions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)357-389
JournalDiscourse Processes
StatePublished - 1985


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