Faculty Scholarly Dissemination Grants


Unitization And The Word Frequency Effect In Associative Recognition




College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Date Range



Previous studies have shown that, whereas item recognition of low frequency (LF) words is better than that of high-frequency (HF) words, an HF advantage is often present for associative recognition (e.g., Clark, 1992). This dissociation has been interpreted as greater use of recollection in associative recognition relative to item recognition. However, some recent work (e.g., Quamme et al., 2007) suggests familiarity-based associative recognition is increased when pairs are encoded as unitary wholes (i.e., compound words), as opposed to separate lexical units. We tested whether encoding of pairs in this manner would influence the word frequency effect in associative recognition. Subjects studied HF and LF pairs of words presented either alone, with a compound definition that combined the meanings of the two words, or with a sentence frame that related the items meaningfully, but did not combine them. A standard HF advantage occurred for pairs presented alone, but was weaker for compound encoding, and was reversed (i.e., an LF advantage) for sentence encoding. The results show the word-frequency effect in associative recognition is sensitive to subtle encoding factors such as the degree of unitization.

Conference Name

Annual Meeting of the Psychonomic Society

Conference Location

Seattle, WA

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