Recognizing spoken words: The neighborhood activation model

Paul A. Luce, David B. Pisoni

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

1019 Scopus citations


Objective: A fundamental problem in the study of human spoken word recognition concerns the structural relations among the sound patterns of words in memory and the effects these relations have on spoken word recognition. In the present investigation, computational and experimental methods were employed to address a number of fundamental issues related to the representation and structural organization of spoken words in the mental lexicon and to lay the groundwork for a model of spoken word recognition. Design: Using a computerized lexicon consisting of transcriptions of 20,000 words, similarity neighborhoods for each of the transcriptions were computed. Among the variables of interest in the computation of the similarity neighborhoods were: 1) the number of words occurring in a neighborhood, 2) the degree of phonetic similarity among the words, and 3) the frequencies of occurrence of the words in the language. The effects of these variables on auditory word recognition were examined in a series of behavioral experiments employing three experimental paradigms: perceptual identification of words in noise, auditory lexical decision, and auditory word naming. Results: The results of each of these experiments demonstrated that the number and nature of words in a similarity neighborhood affect the speed and accuracy of word recognition. A neighborhood probability rule was developed that adequately predicted identification performance. This rule, based on Luce's (1959) choice rule, combines stimulus word intelligibility, neighborhood confusability, and frequency into a single expression. Based on this rule, a model of auditory word recognition, the neighborhood activation model, was proposed. This model describes the affects of similarity neighborhood structure on the process of discriminating among the acoustic-phonetic representations of words in memory. The results of these experiments have important implications for current conceptions of auditory word recognition in normal and hearing impaired populations of children and adults.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-36
Number of pages36
JournalEar and hearing
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1 1998

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Otorhinolaryngology
  • Speech and Hearing

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