How words compete with one another in reading

Magnifying glass over the stack of booksDo “neighbor words” or words that are a single letter different than a target word inhibit or facilitate reading the target word? 

A new study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology that examines the role of word competition in reading found that readers were quicker to process target words when they were primed with neighbor words (e.g. corn and born) than when they were primed with unrelated words.

Recent previous research with the so-called “localist activation-based models” found the reverse, that neighbor words had an inhibiting effect. The difference in results, the researchers report, may be due to a few factors such as the time that elapsed between the reader seeing the priming word and the target word (it was shorter in the current study) and the use of priming words and target words in different cases (upper and lower). As in any competition, the outcome depends on the interplay of many inhibiting and facilitating processes.

“The core assumption common to these localist, activation-based models is that the representations of a word and its neighbors will compete with one another when they are activated and that successful word identification depends on the resolution of the competition between the word and its neighbors,” the researchers write.

Previous research has found that higher frequency neighbor words slow the word identification of a target word because the high frequency word is a powerful competitor, the researchers write.

In this study, the researchers used the fast priming paradigm. Readers were presented with a sentence that included a random set of letters, a placeholder for the target word. Once their eyes landed on those random letters, a prime word was flashed to them and then the target word. So when readers read the sentence, “The girls walked under the beautiful gzfd moon that evening,” the prime word would be “bull” and the target word “full”.

“Testing for Lexical Competition During Reading: Fast Priming With
Orthographic Neighbors,” by Mariko Nakayama et al., Journal of Experimental
Psychology, 2010, Volume 36, Number 2, pps. 477-492.

Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)