New Preprint: Word-Meaning Priming from Short Narratives

Lena Blott and Jennifer Rodd have published a new preprint together with undergraduate researcher Oliver Hartopp and Professor Kate Nation from the University of Oxford.

The preprint can be accessed here.

Previous work from the Word Lab has demonstrated that we can prime people such that relatively infrequent meanings of ambiguous words (e.g. the “animal enclosure” meaning of “pen”) become temporarily more readily available. This has been termed “word-meaning priming” (see e.g. Betts et al., 2018; Gilbert et al., 2018; Rodd et al., 2013; Rodd et al., 2016).

For the present experiment, we designed our priming stimuli to be short narratives in which cues to disambiguation were relatively weak, and distant from the ambiguous word itself. We replicated the previously observed word-meaning priming effect with these stimuli, which are, arguably, more naturalistic than the types of sentences typically used in psycholinguistics studies. We hope that this experiment can be a step towards using more naturalistic and varied forms of disambiguation to study how comprehenders can flexibly update their lexical knowledge to aid comprehension.

The study was preregistered. Data and code are available here.

Jenni Rodd appointed Senior Affiliated Scientist at the MRC CBU, Cambridge

Jenni has been a frequent visitor and collaborator at the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, Cambridge (@mrccbu) since she completed her PhD there many years ago!

She currently has an ESRC grant working with CBU programe leaders Matt Davis (@DrMattDavis) and Rogier Kievit (@rogierK)

In recognition of this long-standing and productive relationship she has been appointed a Senior Affiliated Scientist.

New Paper on Word-Meaning Learning

Greg Maciejewski (now at the University of the West of Scotland) has published a paper entitled

The cost of learning new meanings for familiar words” together with Jenni Rodd (@jennirodd), Mark Mon-Williams and Ekaterini Klepousniotou (University of Leeds)


Research has shown that adults are skilled at learning new words and meanings. We examined whether learning new meanings for familiar words affects the processing of their existing meanings. Adults learnt fictitious meanings for previously unambiguous words over four consecutive days. We tested comprehension of existing meanings using a semantic relatedness decision task in which the probe word was related to the existing but not the new meaning. Following the training, responses were slower to the trained, but not to the untrained, words, indicating competition between newly-acquired and well-established meanings. This 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 findings confirm that new meanings can be integrated into the mental lexicon after just a few days’ exposure, and provide support for current models of ambiguity processing.

Rachael Hulme and Chudi Gong to present at the July meeting of the Experimental Psychology Society

Rachael Hulme ( @Rach_Hulme ) will give a talk at this meeting entitled “Sleep protects against forgetting of new meanings for familiar words learned though stories.”.

See here for her abstract.


Chudi Gong will present a poster entitled “Comparing note-taking modalities for vocabulary learning: A cognitive offloading perspective”.

See here for her poster


New pre-print from Becky Gilbert

Sentence structure and listening task affect the retuning of lexical-semantic representations, Gilbert, R.A., Davis, M.H., Gaskell, M.G., Rodd., J.M.

In this pre-preprint by Becky Gilbert (@beckyannegilbert) and co-authors reports a set of four web-based experiments that use a word-meaning priming method to investigate how/when listeners retune their representations of familiar, ambiguous words.

This results are consistent with a‘good enough’ view of sentence processing in which:

  • representations of sentence meanings can remain as (im)precise as mandated by the situation
  • learning about the words within sentences varies according to the extent to which participants have produced accurate, precise representations of sentence meaning


New ESRC Grant funding!

Dr Jenni Rodd has been awarded a grant for £573,000 from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) to study individual differences in language comprehension across the lifespan. This research will be collaborative with:

This funding will support 2 postdoctoral resesarchers and and a graduate research assistant. Information about these vacancies will appear on this website in the coming weeks.



New paper from Eva Poort in PeerJ

Poort, E.D., Rodd, J.M. (2019). Towards a distributed connectionist account of cognates and interlingual homographs: evidence from semantic relatedness tasks. PeerJ. 7:e6725

In this paper Eva reports two pre-registered online experiments looking at how bilingual participants respond to word forms that exist in both their languages: cognates and interlingual homographs. The results show a striking similiarity to the pattern of results seen in monolingual participants for words that are ambiguous within their single language. She proposes a theoretical approach to unifying these two areas of research.

New pre-print from Lena Blott: Individual differences in sentence comprehension

Blott, L.M., Rodd, J.M., Ferreira, F., Warren J. (2019). Semantic ambiguity resolution during sentence comprehension is more efficient in individuals with greater lexical expertise.

This pre-print reports an eye-tracking study (N=96) That Lena conducted while visiting Fernanda Ferreira’s lab in UCSD.

The results highlight the importance of reading experience and vocabulary knowledge for the efficiency of on-line reading processes in adult readers.