Problem Statement

Sometimes when reading esoteric prose we have a hard time comprehending what the author is trying to convey. A student project group decided to partially replicate part of a seminal 1972 study by Bransford and Johnson on memory encoding (“Contextual prerequisites for understanding: Some investigations of comprehension and recall,” Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior, 11, pp. 717-726). The study examined college students’ comprehension of following ambiguous prose passage.

If the balloons popped, the sound wouldn’t be able to carry since everything would be too far away from the correct floor. A closed window would also prevent the sound from carrying, since most buildings tend to be well insulated. Since the whole operation depends on a steady flow of electricity, a break in the middle of the wire would also cause problems. Of course, the fellow could shout, but the human voice is not loud enough to carry that far. An additional problem is that a string could break on the instrument. Then there could be no accompaniment to the message. It is clear that the best situation would involve less distance. Then there would be fewer potential problems. With face to face contact, the least number of things could go wrong. (p. 719)

Did you understand what the passage was describing? Would it help to have a picture? The picture that goes along with the passage is shown below: