Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Word Frequency and Word Likeness Mirror Effects in Episodic Recognition Memory

Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Word Frequency and Word Likeness Mirror Effects in Episodic Recognition Memory

Article excerpt

Estes and Maddox (2002) suggested that the word frequency mirror effect in episodic recognition memory might be due to word likeness rather than to the frequency of experience with a word per se. We examined their suggestion using a factorial manipulation of frequency and neighborhood density, a measure used in lexical memory research to measure orthographic word likeness. For study with no specified task, main effects of density and frequency were in the mirror order, confirming the hypothesized mirror effect of word likeness but not its role in producing the frequency mirror effect. Lexical decision study increased the size of both mirror effects, even though the density manipulation had a negligible effect on lexical decision performance for words. Post hoc analyses showed that neither mirror effect could be explained by differences in lower order measures of word likeness (letter and bigram frequency). The joint orders of frequency and density results were mirrored across new and old conditions in accordance with attention likelihood theory (ALT), but density effects on z-ROC slope suggest that ALT may require extension to accommodate the effect of word likeness on response confidence.

Lexical memory contains the orthographic, phonological, and semantic representations used, for example, during reading and speaking. Episodic memory, in contrast, is required to decide whether or not an item, such as a word, was experienced in a particular context, such as the last study list. The lexical characteristics of words can have a marked effect on episodic memory. The most studied example is normative word frequency, or the number of times a word occurs in a text corpus (see, e.g., Kucera & Francis, 1967). In the experiments reported here, we examine the origins of the word frequency effect in episodic recognition memory and its relationship to the word frequency effect in lexical memory.

Word frequency has robust and opposite effects in cued lexical and episodic memory tasks. High-frequency words produce faster and more accurate naming and lexical (word vs. nonword) decisions than low-frequency words (Andrews, 1992; Balota & Chumbley, 1984; Schilling, Rayner, & Chumbley, 1998). In contrast, episodic recognition accuracy is better for low- than for high-frequency words. Decreased episodic accuracy commonly results from decreased performance for both unstudied (new) and studied (old) words. This pattern of results is called a mirror effect because higher false alarm rates (FARs) are mirrored by lower hit rates (HRs) for high-frequency in comparison with low-frequency words. The frequency mirror effect has been found by many researchers using a variety of item sets and recognition paradigms (Glanzer & Adams, 1985), leading Glanzer, Adams, Iverson, and Kirn ( 1993) to describe it as one of the regularities of recognition memory.

Differences between high-frequency and low-frequency words postulated to cause the mirror effect are almost as numerous as the empirical findings. In comparison with low-frequency words, high-frequency words have been hypothesized to (1) have more lexical features (Glanzer & Bowles, 1976; McClelland & Chappell, 1998) because they have more dictionary definitions (see, e.g., Reder, Anderson, & Bjork, 1974) and produce more distinct associative responses (see, e.g., Paivio, Yuille, & Madigan, 1968); (2) be associated to more episodic contexts (Dennis & Humphreys, 2001; Reder etal., 2000; Sikstrom, 2001); (3) be composed of less distinctive lexical features (Shiffrin & Steyvers, 1997); (4) have greater baseline (presrudy) memory strength in either lexical memory (Murdock, 2003; Reder et al., 2000) or episodic memory (Glanzer & Bowles, 1976; Wixted, 1992); (5) have a slower episodic learning rate (Glanzer & Adams, 1990; Glanzer & Bowles, 1976; McClelland & Chappell, 1998; Murdock, 2003); (6) be more difficult to recollect (see, e.g., Joordens & Hockley, 2000; Reder et al. …

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