Effects of lexical competition on immediate memory span for spoken words

Winston D. Goh, David B. Pisoni

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

14 Scopus citations


Current theories and models of the structural organization of verbal short-term memory are primarily based on evidence obtained from manipulations of features inherent in the short-term traces of the presented stimuli, such as phonological similarity. In the present study, we investigated whether properties of the stimuli that are not inherent in the short-term traces of spoken words would affect performance in an immediate memory span task. We studied the lexical neighbourhood properties of the stimulus items, which are based on the structure and organization of words in the mental lexicon. The experiments manipulated lexical competition by varying the phonological neighbourhood structure (i.e., neighbourhood density and neighbourhood frequency) of the words on a test list while controlling for word frequency and intra-set phonological similarity (family size). Immediate memory span for spoken words was measured under repeated and nonrepeated sampling procedures. The results demonstrated that lexical competition only emerged when a nonrepeated sampling procedure was used and the participants had to access new words from their lexicons. These findings were not dependent on individual differences in short-term memory capacity. Additional results showed that the lexical competition effects did not interact with proactive interference. Analyses of error patterns indicated that item-type errors, but not positional errors, were influenced by the lexical attributes of the stimulus items. These results complement and extend previous findings that have argued for separate contributions of long-term knowledge and short-term memory rehearsal processes in immediate verbal serial recall tasks.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)929-954
Number of pages26
JournalQuarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology Section A: Human Experimental Psychology
Volume56 A
Issue number6
StatePublished - Aug 2003

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Psychology(all)

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