Date of Award

Spring 2000

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Edward J O'Brien


The Moses Illusion refers to participants' failure to detect distortions in questions such as, "How many animals of each kind did Moses take on the Ark?" although it was actually Noah's Ark. The Illusion is thought to depend on the semantic relation between the distorted term (e.g., Moses) and the correct term (e.g., Noah). The Illusion literature has been limited mostly to investigations of semantic memory and to a single-question format. The experiments reported in this dissertation examined whether the Illusion extends to longer passages of text and whether it is influenced by the presence of the correct term in the episodic representation of the text.

Passages in which an anaphor was either correct, incorrect but highly related, or incorrect but low-related with respect to its antecedent were presented. Experiments 1a and 1b were rating and priming studies that demonstrated that the incorrect - high overlap antecedent shared higher featural overlap with the correct antecedent than the incorrect low overlap antecedent did. In Experiments 2a and 2b, passages focused on the similarities between the incorrect - high overlap and correct antecedents. In Experiment 3, the passages focused on the dissimilarities between the incorrect - high overlap and correct antecedents. In Experiment 4, syntactic focus was used to highlight the incorrect - high overlap antecedent. In Experiments 2a--4, reading time differences demonstrated that readers failed to detect the distortion more often when the distorted anaphor and its antecedent shared high featural overlap. Thus, the Moses Illusion does extend to reading comprehension, and more specifically, to antecedent retrieval. In addition, semantic information about the relation between the antecedent and anaphor appeared to be more available during integration than episodic information about the antecedent. These results are discussed in terms of the memory-based view of text processing.