A megastudy by Dr. Winston Goh, Dr. Melvin Yap, and NUS Psychology graduates examines the relative contributions of semantic properties to auditory word processing.
The ultimate goal of listening and reading is to understand the meaning of words and sentences—the semantics of the message. Yet, while the role of semantic influences has been investigated in the visual word recognition literature, such effects remain relatively unexplored in the field of spoken word recognition, and have been overlooked in models and theories. Instead, spoken word recognition research continues to be dominated by variables such as word frequency or structural properties (e.g., word-form similarity).
This gap has been addressed in recent research by Dr. Winston Goh (pictured, left), Dr. Melvin Yap (pictured, right), and NUS Psychology graduate students, Mabel Lau, Melvin Ng, and Tan Luuan-Chin, through a megastudy approach that used a large corpus of word stimuli for which lexical decision and semantic categorization responses were collected.
In their study, participants underwent 936 experimental trials in which they were presented with sound clips of spoken stimuli, and had to classify each stimulus as a word or nonword (lexical decision task), or as a concrete or abstract word (semantic categorization task).
The researchers found that a range of semantic richness variables predicted spoken word recognition. Dr. Goh noted,
People recognised spoken words faster when their referents were associated with many semantic features and when they evoked stronger sensory and motor experiences.
In addition, positive (e.g., muffin) and negative (e.g., murder) words were recognised faster than neutral words (e.g., table). Interestingly, the researchers also found that semantic influences were less powerful in spoken, compared to visual, word recognition, consistent with the view that resolving the competition between phonologically similar lexical candidates remains a crucial aspect of listening. These findings provide important new constraints for models of auditory lexical processing.
The researchers plan to continue using the megastudy approach, where the properties of the language or stimuli are not experimentally controlled for as in traditional factorial designs, but their influence can still be ascertained using multiple regression analyses, to investigate other psycholinguistic phenomena. Findings from this approach will complement traditional experiments in advancing knowledge in the cognitive sciences.
Mabel Lau is now doing her doctoral studies on memory processes with Steven Roodenrys at the University of Wollongong. Melvin Ng is also doing his doctoral studies on gestures with Catherine So at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Tan Luuan-Chin is now an entrepreneur.
Goh, W. D., Yap, M. J., Lau, M. C., Ng, M. M. R., & Tan, L.-C. (2016). Semantic richness effects in spoken word recognition: A lexical decision and semantic categorization megastudy. Frontiers in Psychology, 7:976. http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00976