The Modulation of Semantic Transparency on the Recognition Memory for Two-Character Chinese Words

By Han, Yi-Jhong; Huang, Shuo-chieh et al. | Memory & Cognition, November 2014 | Go to article overview

The Modulation of Semantic Transparency on the Recognition Memory for Two-Character Chinese Words


Han, Yi-Jhong, Huang, Shuo-chieh, Lee, Chia-Ying, Kuo, Wen-Jui, Cheng, Shih-kuen, Memory & Cognition


Published online: 4 June 2014

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2014

Abstract This study demonstrated that semantic transparency as a linguistic property modulates the recognition memory for two-character Chinese words, with opaque words (i.e., words whose meanings cannot be derived from constituent characters-e.g., "[/guang/, light][/gun/, stick]", bachelor) remembered better than transparent words (i.e., words whose meanings can be derived from constituent characters-e.g., "[/cha/, tea] [/bei/, cup]", teacup). In Experiment 1, the participants made lexical decisions on transparent words, opaque words, and nonwords in the study and then engaged in an old/new recognition test. Experiment 2 employed a concreteness judgment as the encoding task to ensure equivalent semantic processing for opaque and transparent words. In Experiment 3, the neighborhood size of the two-character words was manipulated together with their semantic transparency. In all three experiments, opaque words were found to be better remembered than transparent words. We concluded that the conceptual incongruence between the meanings of a whole word and its constituent characters made opaque words more distinctive and, hence, better remembered than transparent words.

Keywords Semantic transparency * Recognition memory * Remember/know

The study of recognition memory frequently employs words as stimuli. Words with different characteristics can be viewed as mini-events that are analogous to various types of episodes experienced in real life (Tulving, 1983). The understanding of mnemonic processes has been advanced by examining the memory performance for different types of words. For instance, verbs are more difficult to memorize than nouns because verbs have greater variations in meaning, so the differences between encoding and retrieval contexts could create more obstacles for the retrieval of verbs (Gentner, 1981; Kersten & Earles, 2004). Concrete words are better remembered than abstract words because concrete words can be encoded with dual codes and processed more elaborately than abstract words (Fliessbach, Weis, Klaver, Eiger, & Weber, 2006; Hamilton & Rajaram, 2001). In addition, the memory performance of words is modulated by how often a word is encountered, with low-frequency words eliciting better recognition performance than high-frequency words (e.g., Dobbins, Kroll, Yonelinas, & Liu, 1998; Heathcote, Ditton, & Mitchell, 2006).

The orthographic and phonological properties of words have also been used to examine the effect of distinctiveness on recognition memory (e.g., Hirshman & Jackson, 1997; Hunt & Elliott, 1980). Despite abundant research on the distinctiveness effect in memory (e.g., Malmberg, Steyvers, Stephens, & Shiffrin, 2002; Rajaram, 1998; Schmidt, 1991; Wallace, 1965), distinctiveness is seldom defined unequivocally (Schmidt, 1991). Córtese, Watson, Wang, and Fugett (2004) argued that words with few phonological and orthographic neighbors (i.e., words sharing a same rhyme, which is spelled in the same way for all of these words) are more distinctive than those with many neighbors. The authors indeed found a memory advantage for words with small neighborhoods. Glane and Greene (2007) further reported a recognition mirror effect (Glanzer & Adams, 1985, 1990; Joordens & Hockley, 2000) as a function of neighborhood size. The hit rate was higher and the false alarm rate lower for words with a small neighborhood size than for those with a large neighborhood size. In addition, the hit and false alarm parts of the mirror effect were respectively associated with the remember and know judgments that have been used to index the phenomenology of recollection and familiarity (Gardiner, 1988; Tulving, 1983) associated with retrieval. Glane and Greene (2007) therefore concluded that words with a small neighborhood size are more distinctive and more likely to be recognized with recollective experience than are words with a large neighborhood size. …

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