The Effect of Word Familiarity on Word Recall

Topics: Short-term memory, Serial position effect, Memory processes Pages: 14 (3323 words) Published: April 27, 2014
The Effect of Semantic Familiarity on Immediate Free Recall Of Semantically Related or Unrelated Words

Past research has shown that words that are used at a higher frequency, or those that are more familiar, and used in day-to-day life corresponds to higher immediate free recall. It has also been found that semantically related words appear to be recalled at a higher frequency as opposed to semantically unrelated items. In this study, we aim to investigate two variables, word familiarity and semantic relatedness would, and their effect on immediate recall. Within the experiment, there were three conditions used to test these variables, and were all used on each participant. The first was a condition control which included words that were semantically unrelated, and were rated as medium familiarity; the second was a group of semantically related words with high familiarity, and finally a group of semantically related words with low familiarity. The results concluded that recall is influenced by both familiarity as well as position in the word list, where high familiarity items were recalled more, and items towards the top and bottom of the list were recalled more. There was however, a strong Recency effect that outweighed the primacy effect, which can be used as support for the existence of dual store in memory.

There is a vast amount of research that has been conducted which suggests that semantic organization is correlated with improved memory. Poirier & Saint – Aubin, for instance, focused on performance in recollection, they aimed to investigate the effect frequency has on item recall, through the use of lists that were either phonologically similar, versus distinct list, in the results, they observed, they found a clear primacy and Recency effect, in all conditions. It was also found that lists of words containing semantic relations had a higher frequency of recall in comparison to semantically dissimilar lists. This was supported by Crowder, (1978), who suggested a reason for a higher frequency of recall in semantically related words, as being due to the words being engraved within the participants long term knowledge.

Another variable investigated by Poirier & Saint – Aubin (1996), which appeared to have a significant effect on recall performance was word frequency. It was found that higher frequency words were recalled a lot more than low or medium frequency words. Hall, 1954, and Sumby, 1963, found similar results. Sumby furthermore suggested that, since Primacy and Recency effects were not as obvious in the high frequency conditions, this may be due to the fact that high frequency words are associated semantically, and low frequency words more phonetically.

There is some research however, that goes against the findings of Poirier & Saint- Aubin. For instance, MacLeod and Kampe, (1996), tested not only word recall in memory tests, but also in recognition tests. They suggested through their findings that Low frequency words tended to be more recognizable than higher frequency words. This was explained through Mandler (1980), who suggested that as low frequency words are less familiar, this produced a heighted retrieval performance as this would indirectly lead to an enhancement of familiarity. Therefore, it is the unfamiliarity itself, which makes the word more recognizable when presented once again at a later stage. However, this sensitivity is more common in tasks involving familiarity as opposed to those purely based on recollection alone. There is some research however, that disproves this theory however. Hulme et al, (1991) suggests that memory is enhanced by familiar words. Thus, because familiarity is correlated to some extent with semantic representation, it is engraved into the long-term memory store, which inevitably improves the subject ability to recall familiar words.

Our study aims to investigate the effect of the familiarity (i.e. the frequency of words...

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