New Preprint: The role of sleep in learning word meanings from stories

Rachael Hulme and Jenni Rodd looked at how adults integrate new word meanings with existing knowledge when learning new homonyms (e.g. internet-related meaning of “troll”).

link to preprint:

They were interetested in whether sleep plays a role as has previously shown for learning new word forms (e.g. “cathedruke”).

In two experiments adults learned new fictional meanings for low-ambiguity words (e.g., “foam”) through naturalistic story reading. Their memory for the new meanings was tested after 12hrs either including or not including overnight sleep.

They found that a 12hr period including sleep led to better recall and recognition of new word meanings than 12hrs awake. This sleep benefit was specific to when sleep occurred immediately between learning and test, without any extended period of wake in-between. They did not find direct evidence of an active benefit of sleep for consolidating memories of new word meanings; the sleep benefit could be due to the absence of interference from other linguistic input while asleep.

Expt 2 was preregistered, and all materials, data & analysis code are available via the OSF:

New Preprint: Effect of Contextual Diversity on Word Learning

A new preprint By Rachael Hulme, Anisha Begum, Kate Nation and Jenni Rodd looks at how contextual diversity affects early stages of word learning.

Diversity of narrative context disrupts the early stage of learning the meanings of novel words

There’s an important distinction between ‘situational diversity’ (i.e. the context in which words occur) and ‘heterogeneity’ (i.e. polysemy/diversity in words’ meanings). These typically co-occur in natural language, so we wanted to tease contextual diversity apart from polysemy.

Adults learned new words and their meanings by reading paragraphs with either five different narrative contexts or a single coherent narrative context. We controlled the semantic features of word meanings across conditions to avoid influences from polysemy.

Diversity of narrative context did not affect word-form learning but disrupted learning of word meanings – more semantic features were correctly recalled for words learned in a single coherent narrative context.

So in the early stages of learning meanings of new words, learning is boosted by anchoring them to a single coherent narrative discourse. The temporary representations that are built to support discourse comprehension may play an important role in supporting word learning.

The expt was preregistered, and materials, data & analysis code are available via OSF:

Here’s a poster summary of this research:

Po-Heng Chen joins the lab

We are delighted to welcome Po-Heng (Bobby) Chen to the lab.

Po-Heng is a PhD student in the Graduate Institute of Linguistics at National Taiwan University, where he works with Dr. Chia-Lin Lee. His research takes advantage of different technologies (e.g., eye tracking, ERPs, MEG, and fMRI), to study how humans learn and deploy syntactic and semantic information. Through examining individual variations and age-related differences, his goal is to understand the dynamic changes of the interaction between language-specific and domain-general cognitive and neural mechanisms across lifespan.

He was awarded a prestigious grant from the Taiwan Ministry of Science and Technology to spend 12 months working with us as a visiting researcher. He will be working on a project looking at the impact of prior knowledge on the word meaning learning in older and younger adults.