Exciting new adventures for PhD-candidate Anne Helder
For the past 5 years Anne Helder has conducted research on reading comprehension processes in children and adolescents, using a range of different techniques, at the Brain and Education Lab. In September 2016 she started her postdoctoral research at the Learning Research and Development Center, University of Pittsburgh, USA. In November, Anne will return to the Netherlands to defend her dissertation named ”Monitoring the coherence of texts: Coherence-break detection across development”. The defence will be on November 15, 2016.


In her dissertation, Anne Helder describes several studies that focus on the development of cognitive processes in reading comprehension, and more specifically, the ability to detect coherence breaks in texts. When reading a text, a reader makes a coherent mental representation of what the text is about. The inconsistency paradigm, used in her dissertation and by many other researchers, is a useful tool in finding out whether the reader is indeed constructing this coherent representation during reading. When a reader encounters a coherence break in the text (for example when incoming information contradicts previous text), the reader is likely to slow down during reading, which suggests that the coherence-break is detected, and may engage in further cognitive processes to try to resolve the inconsistency.

One of the studies described in Anne Helder’s dissertation focuses on coherence-break detection during and after reading in children in elementary school. Children in elementary school are learning many different reading skills, such as decoding words, acquiring the meaning of words through text, and  monitoring their text comprehension. Because children have not yet automated all necessary reading skills to build a coherent representation of the text, they are likely to show individual differences in detecting coherence breaks in the text. Indeed, in 8-11 year-olds, poor comprehenders proved less able than good comprehenders to report on detecting an inconsistency after having read a story, although they slowed down during reading just as good comprehenders did. These findings suggest that poor comprehenders’ difficulty to monitor the coherence of texts does not originate in the initial detection of coherence breaks during reading, but rather in subsequent processes. This information is potentially important for teachers to better understand where in the reading process poor comprehenders may need extra support.

Anne Helder has been a great asset to the Brain and Education Lab. She will now continue her scientific career at the Learning Research and Development Center at University of Pittsburgh, USA. There she is conducting research focusing on cognitive processes that readers engage in when reading single words and, more specifically, whether these processes are influenced by discourse-level factors, such as a central theme in a text, using EEG. We wish her the best of luck!