Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.


Psychological and Brain Sciences

Committee Chair

Burns, Barbara M.

Author's Keywords

Temperament; Children; Low-income; Attention; Cognitive engagement; Comprehension


Comprehension in children; Academic achievement--Economic aspects; Child development--Economic aspects; Discourse analysis, Narrative


The current study investigated narrative comprehension ability in children from low-income families by examining the contributions of temperament, attention skills, and cognitive engagement. Research has identified narrative comprehension skills as significant for successful literacy outcomes, but few studies have examined the effect of individual level characteristics on comprehension ability. As reading and pre-reading skills in children from disadvantaged homes has been shown to be lower than that of children from more privileged backgrounds, it is critical to examine the factors that contribute to comprehension skills in this population. The current study focuses on the relationships among temperament, attention network skills, cognitive engagement, and comprehension abilities of children from low-income families. A television viewing methodology was employed to assess children's factual and causal comprehension as well as visual attention to the television in two conditions, one with distracter and one with no distracters. The goal of experiment one was to establish the role of temperament and attention network skills in children's factual and causal comprehension performance both in the presence and absence of competing distracters. Rothbart's temperament dimensions of effortful control and extraversion were used in separate analyses, along with attention network skills identified by Posner, to predict narrative comprehension performance. Findings partially supported the hypotheses, signifying the importance of effortful control for both factual and causal comprehension in the presence of distracters. Extraversion and attention skills were not significantly related to either type of comprehension in either condition. Experiment two hypothesized that cognitive engagement would significantly predict comprehension in the distracter condition after controlling for effortful control, and that cognitive engagement would be more important for causal comprehension than factual. Unexpectedly, the results showed that cognitive engagement was significantly related to factual comprehension but not causal comprehension. However, additional analyses showed that total time looking at the television was significantly related to causal comprehension in the distracter condition. The findings are discussed in terms of both theoretical and applied implications and future directions in research are explored.