Preprint: ‘The cost of learning new meanings for familiar words’


Greg Maciejewski, Jenni Rodd, and collaborators have a new pre-print available on PsyArXiv, the details of which can be found below:

Title: The cost of learning new meanings for familiar words

Authors: Greg Maciejewski, Jennifer M. Rodd, Mark Mon-Williams, and Ekaterini Klepousniotou


Research has shown that adults are highly skilled at learning new words and meanings. Here, we examined whether learning new meanings for familiar words affects the processing of their existing meanings. In Experiments 1 and 2, adult participants learnt new, fictitious meanings for previously unambiguous words (e.g., “sip” denoting a small amount of computer data) through four 30-minute training sessions completed over four consecutive days. We tested participants’ comprehension of existing meanings before and after training using a semantic relatedness decision task in which the probe word was related to the existing but not the new meaning of the trained word (e.g., “sip-juice”). Following the training, responses were slower to the trained, but not to the untrained, words, indicating competition between newly-acquired and well-established meanings. Furthermore, consistent with studies of semantic ambiguity, the effect was smaller for meanings that were semantically related to existing meanings than for the unrelated counterparts, demonstrating that meaning relatedness modulates the degree of competition. Overall, the key findings confirm that new word meanings can be integrated into the mental lexicon after just a few days’ exposure, and provide support for current models of ambiguity that predict semantic competition in word comprehension.