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The background sentence the air was cold and clammy depicts setting information which may or may not be of significance to a given character in a narrative. We tested the hypothesis that such information is processed with respect to the main character in a narrative rather than with respect to a secondary character. In Experiment 1, subjects making attributions of awareness of such background states were more likely to attribute such awareness to main than to secondary characters. In Experiment 2, using self- paced reading, we showed that such information is more important for main than for secondary characters during reading. Thus, unattached background information is processed with respect to main characters. This bias provides a source of control over the processing necessary to establish a coherent representation during the reading of narratives. Experiment 3 eliminated the possibility that the effects were due to generally shallower processing of sentences centered on secondary characters.

Original publication




Journal article


Memory and Cognition

Publication Date





1323 - 1329