The Model of Failed Foregrounding

Amir Harash

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


This paper points to a blind spot in the field of empirical study of literature, which is ignoring failures in reading processes. It investigates several kinds of failures based on the foregrounding theory, the most systematic attempt hitherto to empirically examine a model of literature reading. While some of the classical experiments usually considered supportive of foregrounding theory have actually reported mixed findings, these were not seriously considered as indications of failure, or as theoretically interesting. Informed by the standard model of foregrounding and its shortcomings, I propose a new model that examines the possibility that the process may fail and, more importantly, that this failure is integral to actual reading of literature by real-life readers. One type of failure is “shallow processing”, where the reader does not even initiate the foregrounding process; the other is “failed foregrounding”, where failure occurs after an interpretive move has already begun. To examine failures in foregrounding, I conducted a reading experiment: 42 subjects read a short story while their eye movements were tracked. They were then presented with heat maps of their own eye movements and were asked to explain why they focused on particular text segments, a process known as Retrospective Think-Aloud. Analysis of the interviews shows that in 36% of the cases, readers didn’t even initiate the foregrounding process, and they completed it successfully in only 21% of the cases.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)594-609
Number of pages16
JournalPsychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts
Issue number4
StatePublished - 28 Oct 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Eye tracking
  • Failed foregrounding
  • Foregrounding theory
  • Retrospective think aloud
  • Shallow processing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Visual Arts and Performing Arts
  • Applied Psychology


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