Does neighborhood size really cause the word length effect?

Guitard, Dominic and Saint-Aubin, Jean and Tehan, Gerald and Tolan, Anne (2017) Does neighborhood size really cause the word length effect? Memory & Cognition. ISSN 0090-502X


In short-term serial recall, it is well-known that short words are remembered better than long words. This word length effect has been the cornerstone of the working memory model and a benchmark effect that all models of immediate memory should account for. Currently, there is no consensus as to what determines the word length effect. Jalbert and colleagues (Jalbert, Neath, Bireta, & Surprenant, 2011a; Jalbert, Neath, & Surprenant, 2011b) suggested that neighborhood size is one causal factor. In six experiments we systematically examined their suggestion. In Experiment 1, with an immediate serial recall task, multiple word lengths, and a large pool of words controlled for neighborhood size, the typical word length effect was present. In Experiments 2 and 3, with an order reconstruction task and words with either many or few neighbors, we observed the typical word length effect. In Experiment 4 we tested the hypothesis that the previous abolition of the word length effect when neighborhood size was controlled was due to a confounded factor: frequency of orthographic structure. As predicted, we reversed the word length effect when using short words with less frequent orthographic structures than the long words, as was done in both of Jalbert et al.’s studies. In Experiments 5 and 6, we again observed the typical word length effect, even if we controlled for neighborhood size and frequency of orthographic structure. Overall, the results were not consistent with the predictions of Jalbert et al. and clearly showed a large and reliable word length effect after controlling for neighborhood size.

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Item Type: Article (Commonwealth Reporting Category C)
Refereed: Yes
Item Status: Live Archive
Additional Information: Published online 10 October 2017. Permanent restricted access to ArtileFirst version in accordance with the copyright policy of the publisher.
Faculty / Department / School: Current - Faculty of Health, Engineering and Sciences - School of Psychology and Counselling
Date Deposited: 31 Jan 2018 06:16
Last Modified: 02 May 2018 01:43
Uncontrolled Keywords: working memory, word length effect, immediate serial recall, neighbourhood size
Fields of Research : 17 Psychology and Cognitive Sciences > 1702 Cognitive Sciences > 170201 Computer Perception, Memory and Attention
Socio-Economic Objective: E Expanding Knowledge > 97 Expanding Knowledge > 970117 Expanding Knowledge in Psychology and Cognitive Sciences
Identification Number or DOI: 10.3758/s13421-017-0761-9

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