Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Are Age-of-Acquisition Effects on Object Naming Due Simply to Differences in Object Recognition? Comments on Levelt (2002)

Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Are Age-of-Acquisition Effects on Object Naming Due Simply to Differences in Object Recognition? Comments on Levelt (2002)

Article excerpt

Levelt (2002) argued that apparent effects of word frequency and age of acquisition (AoA) reported in recent picture naming studies might actually be confounded effects operating at the level of object recognition, rather than relevant to theories of lexical retrieval. In order to investigate this issue, AoA effects were examined in an object recognition memory task (Experiments 1 and 2) and a word-picture verification task (Experiment 3) and compared with those found in naming tasks using the same pictures. Contrary to Levelt's concerns, the results of the three experiments show that the AoA effect on picture naming has a lexical origin and does not simply result from a possible confound of object identification times.

Object naming can be modeled as involving five major processing stages that are organized broadly sequentially but may operate in cascade (see, e.g., Humphreys, Riddoch, & Quinlan, 1988): perceptual analysis [arrow right] object recognition [arrow right] semantic comprehension [arrow right] name retrieval [arrow right] word articulation. A large number of studies have been conducted to investigate the factors that affect object naming times. These factors include characteristics of the pictures used (e.g., visual complexity and image agreement), aspects of the semantic features of the objects (e.g., whether they are living things or artifacts), and variables that relate to the names of the objects (e.g., word frequency and phonological length). (There are, in addition, numerous studies of experimental manipulations that affect naming times, such as repetition priming.) Psycholinguistic variables (e.g., word frequency and age of acquisition, or AoA) have been studied with the motivation of informing our understanding of the processes involved in word retrieval in speech production, the fourth of the five major processes involved in object naming. Many studies have reported effects of word frequency on object naming times (e.g., Jescheniak & Levelt, 1994), and in recent studies the effects of word frequency have been contrasted with those of object name AoAs. These two variables correlate, since words used more frequently in adulthood tend to be learned earlier in life, and so it is necessary to determine which is of primary importance. Whereas AoA has generally not been controlled in studies reporting effects of frequency (e.g., Oldfield & Wingfield, 1965), every study in which AoA has been examined (and frequency controlled) has found it to exert a reliable effect on object naming times. For example, in semifactorial studies both Barry, Hirsh, Johnston, and Williams (2001) and Bonin, Fayol, and Chalard (2001) found a reliable effect of AoA on object naming times when frequency was controlled, but no effect of frequency when AoA was controlled. A number of multiple regression studies have found effects of both AoA and frequency (e.g., Barry, Morrison, & ElHs, 1997; Bonin, Peereman, Malardier, Meot, & Chalard, 2003; Ellis & Morrison, 1998; Lachman, 1973; Lachman, Shaffer, & Hennrikus, 1974).

The reported effects of both AoA and frequency on naming times have generally been interpreted as affecting the process of lexical retrieval. For example, Alario, Costa, and Caramazza (2002a) studied the production of determiner-adjective-noun phrases (e.g., the red kite) as descriptions of pictures and found additive effects of the word frequency of the adjectives and nouns, with faster naming responses to high-frequency words. They interpreted these effects as being problematic for theories that propose that frequency affects the level of phonological encoding of naming and that the phonological word (e.g., the red is a phonological word) is the minimal unit of phonological encoding. According to these theories, frequency effects in noun phrases should be observed on adjectives and not on nouns, which belong to a different phonological word.

In his critique of Alario et al. …

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