Warning readers to avoid irrelevant information: When being vague might be valuable

Annie Peshkam*, Michael C. Mensink, Adam L. Putnam, David N. Rapp

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Scopus citations


Students are often provided with instructions that are intended to influence their attention to particular sections or elements of their reading materials. To date, the bulk of the work on such prereading instructions has focused on drawing reader attention to relevant text information. In the current project, we examined whether instructions might also be useful in helping readers ignore irrelevant (albeit inherently interesting) information in text. In two experiments, prereading instructions asked readers to (a) focus on specific relevant text segments, (b) ignore specific irrelevant text segments, (c) maintain an awareness that the text contained irrelevant segments without specifically identifying them, or (d) read without warnings. Participants generally exhibited longer reading times and enhanced recall for irrelevant segments compared to base content, except in cases for which general instructions warned about but did not specifically identify those irrelevant elements. The implications of these findings for research on seductive details and text processing, as well practical applications for the design of reading instruction, are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)219-231
Number of pages13
JournalContemporary Educational Psychology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 2011


  • Attention
  • Instructions
  • Reading comprehension
  • Seductive details
  • Text processing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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