Examining Cumulative Semantic Interference in Children

  • Author / Creator
    Baird, Tieghan
  • When speakers are asked to name a series of semantically related pictures (e.g., apple, pear, banana), response times increase as more pictures are named. This effect is known as cumulative semantic interference (CSI). Researchers who have studied these effects in adults have proposed that these interference effects are due to durable changes in the strength of representation of a word, otherwise known as incremental learning (Howard et al., 2006; Oppenheim, Dell & Schwartz, 2010). This effect has been well documented in adults, but few studies have focused on this phenomenon in children. This gap invited further investigation as cumulative semantic interference has the potential to offer a window into how children strengthen or change their representation and processing of words. The present study examines cumulative semantic interference in preschool-aged children using a continuous list method with unrelated, intervening items. Forty children (17 male, Mage = 3 years; 11 months, range 3;0 – 4;11) named 100 images, consisting of 72 experimental items (six exemplars drawn from 12 different semantic categories) and 28 filler items. There were two to eight intervening trials between related category members. Potential factors impacting cumulative semantic interference effects, such as vocabulary size, conceptual organization and inhibitory control, were also examined. Children demonstrated robust cumulative semantic interference effects as evidenced by increased response latencies and decreased response accuracy for each successive category image. The effects were persisting and independent of intervening naming experiences, consistent with the incremental learning account. Exploratory analyses were completed to investigate factors contributing to individual differences. Two variables were identified to have moderating effects: vocabulary size and age. As children’s vocabulary scores increased, predicted slopes suggested worsening accuracy over ordinal position; however, the degree of worsening was attenuated as compared to children with poorer vocabularies. Older children demonstrated a greater increase in reaction times as ordinal position increased, thereby indicating stronger cumulative semantic interference effects. This study supports the application of the incremental learning account to cumulative semantic interference effects in preschool aged children. While only vocabulary and age were identified as moderating factors, this indicates there are certain abilities and knowledge that contribute to the presence of these effects. This study provides important insights into lexical representation and processing in typical language development, and offers a foundation for future work with children with language delays.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Spring 2020
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Master of Science
  • DOI
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