Thursday, October 11, 2018

Newly-acquired words are more phonologically robust in verbal short-term memory when they have associated semantic representations

Savill, N., Ellis, A. W., & Jefferies, E. (2017). Newly-acquired words are more phonologically robust in verbal short-term memory when they have associated semantic representations. Neuropsychologia, 98, 85–97.

It is well established that short-term or working memory codes phonological (or speech sounds of a word) information, while long-term memory holds semantic (meaning-based) information. Only recently has there been interest in looking at the effects of storing semantic information in short-term memory. A key question then is whether the learning of new phonological forms can benefit from semantic support.

In this study, participants learned new words that were trained with or without a semantic association. Words that had a semantic association were paired with an object and participants learned facts about that object, while words without semantic support were paired with a blurred image, without a central meaning. Learning was assessed immediately by a series of tests: participants were asked to recall any words they remembered (free recall); recall the words in the order they were presented (serial recall); and label the objects presented. On Day 2, participants were tested again using these tasks and were also asked to decide if the image matched the spoken label.

Overall the results suggest that word learning can benefit from being supported by meaning cues. Semantic effects also occurred immediately. Words paired with semantic cues had a slight advantage, with more phonemes recalled correctly compared to familiar words (i.e., words trained without semantic support) and new words; otherwise, performance for semantically-trained words and familiar words were comparable across all other tasks. Surprisingly, participants were poor at freely recalling items and naming pictures even though they successfully learned to link the word with the object and learned the semantic features about that object at the end of training. This suggests that word form and meaning might be encoded into long-term memory at least somewhat separately. It would follow that future work needs to consider when the link between word and meaning is being learned successfully and established in memory.

Blogger: Theresa is a MClSc/PhD Candidate, supervised by Dr. Lisa Archibald. Theresa’s work examines the learning of phonological (speech sound) and semantic (meaning) aspects of words.

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