Talk by Rachael Hulme at UCL Language and Cognition Seminar Series

Chandler House, UCL

Rachael Hulme, a PhD student in The Word Lab, will be giving a talk entitled “The benefit of tests for learning new meanings for familiar words from stories” as part of the Language and Cognition Seminar Series at UCL on Monday 16th April 1-2pm.

The talk will take place in room G10, Chandler House, 2 Wakefield Street, London WC1N 1PF. Details of the talk can be found below:

Title: The benefit of tests for learning new meanings for familiar words from stories.

Abstract: Adults must often learn new meanings for familiar words, for example due to language evolving with changes in technology (e.g. the internet-related meaning of “troll”), or when taking up a new subject or activity (e.g. the sailing term “boom”). Learning new word meanings generally takes place incidentally by inferring the new meaning from context, rather than through intentional memorisation. The studies I will present in this talk use a naturalistic web-based story-reading paradigm to examine adults’ incidental acquisition and long-term retention of novel, artificial meanings for familiar words. I will discuss the importance of testing memory immediately after learning for future retention of vocabulary learned in this way. I will look at how tests can benefit incidental and intentional learning of new meanings for familiar words, and the use of different test methods. I will discuss implications for vocabulary learning in educational settings.

Further details about the Language and Cognition Seminar Series can be found here:


Leverhulme DTC PhD Studentship Available for the Ecological Study of the Brain


Interested in joining The Word Lab? Dr Jenni Rodd is looking to recruit a PhD student to work on a project on ‘Using natural language environments to study vocabulary
development across the lifespan’, starting October 2018.

Further information about the project is available here: Leverhulme Doctoral Training Programme for the Ecological Study of the Brain

Further information about the studentship is available here:

Please note that the deadline to apply for the studentship is: 28th March 2018

Interested applicants should contact Dr Jenni Rodd in the first instance: j.rodd(at)


New Paper: ‘Listeners and Readers Generalize Their Experience With Word Meanings Across Modalities’


Becky Gilbert, Jenni Rodd, and collaborators have a new paper out (as an online first article) in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition. The details of the paper can be found below:

Title: Listeners and Readers Generalize Their Experience With Word Meanings Across Modalities.

Authors: Rebecca A. Gilbert, Matthew H. Davis, Gareth M. Gaskell, and Jennifer M. Rodd


Research has shown that adults’ lexical-semantic representations are surprisingly malleable. For instance, the interpretation of ambiguous words (e.g., bark) is influenced by experience such that recently encountered meanings become more readily available (Rodd et al., 2016, 2013). However, the mechanism underlying this word-meaning priming effect remains unclear, and competing accounts make different predictions about the extent to which information about word meanings that is gained within one modality (e.g., speech) is transferred to the other modality (e.g., reading) to aid comprehension. In two Web-based experiments, ambiguous target words were primed with either written or spoken sentences that biased their interpretation toward a subordinate meaning, or were unprimed. About 20 min after the prime exposure, interpretation of these target words was tested by presenting them in either written or spoken form, using word association (Experiment 1, N = 78) and speeded semantic relatedness decisions (Experiment 2, N = 181). Both experiments replicated the auditory unimodal priming effect shown previously (Rodd et al., 2016, 2013) and revealed significant cross-modal priming: primed meanings were retrieved more frequently and swiftly across all primed conditions compared with the unprimed baseline. Furthermore, there were no reliable differences in priming levels between unimodal and cross-modal prime-test conditions. These results indicate that recent experience with ambiguous word meanings can bias the reader’s or listener’s later interpretation of these words in a modality-general way. We identify possible loci of this effect within the context of models of long-term priming and ambiguity resolution.

New Paper in Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition


Hannah Betts and other members of the Word Lab have a new paper in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, the details of which can be found below:

Title: Retuning of Lexical-Semantic Representations: Repetition and Spacing Effects in Word-Meaning Priming.

Authors: Hannah N. Betts, Rebecca A. Gilbert, Zhenguang G. Cai, Zainab B. Okedara, & Jennifer M. Rodd


Current models of word-meaning access typically assume that lexical-semantic representations of ambiguous words (e.g., ‘bark of the dog/tree’) reach a relatively stable state in adulthood, with only the relative frequencies of meanings and immediate sentence context determining meaning preference. However, recent experience also affects interpretation: recently encountered word-meanings become more readily available (Rodd et al., 2016, 2013). Here, 3 experiments investigated how multiple encounters with word-meanings influence the subsequent interpretation of these ambiguous words. Participants heard ambiguous words contextually-disambiguated towards a particular meaning and, after a 20- to 30-min delay, interpretations of the words were tested in isolation. We replicate the finding that 1 encounter with an ambiguous word biased the later interpretation of this word towards the primed meaning for both subordinate (Experiments 1, 2, 3) and dominant meanings (Experiment 1). In addition, for the first time, we show cumulative effects of multiple repetitions of both the same and different meanings. The effect of a single subordinate exposure persisted after a subsequent encounter with the dominant meaning, compared to a dominant exposure alone (Experiment 1). Furthermore, 3 subordinate word-meaning repetitions provided an additional boost to priming compared to 1, although only when their presentation was spaced (Experiments 2, 3); massed repetitions provided no such boost (Experiments 1, 3). These findings indicate that comprehension is guided by the collective effect of multiple recently activated meanings and that the spacing of these activations is key to producing lasting updates to the lexical-semantic network.

Eva Poort Awarded OSF Preregistration Challenge Prize


We are pleased to announce that The Word Lab’s Eva Poort has been awarded one of the Open Science Framework’s (OSF’s) $1000 prizes for the Preregistration Challenge!

The prize was awarded for Eva’s article entitled ‘The cognate facilitation effect in bilingual lexical decision is influenced by task demands’ (Experiment 2 of the paper was preregistered through the Open Science Framework).

Eva was previously interviewed about her first experience of preregistration, you can read the interview in full here: The “Preregistration Challenge” – Interview with Eva Poort.

Further information about the OSF’s Preregistration Challenge is available here:

Dr Jenni Rodd is Keynote Speaker at Workshop on fMRI and Language Processing


Dr Jenni Rodd will be giving a keynote talk entitled “What can (and cannot) be learned from fMRI: lessons from 15 years of research on lexical ambiguity” at a workshop on “fMRI and language processing: State of the art and future directions” at the University of Reading.

The workshop will take place on 13th December at Palmer 1.09, Whiteknights Campus, University of Reading, Reading, UK, RG6 6AL.

Further details about the workshop can be found here:

Talk by Jenni Rodd on Understanding Word Meanings


This afternoon (7th December 2017) at 4pm Jenni Rodd will be giving a talk entitled ‘How do we understand the meanings of words?’ as part of the Centre for Educational Neuroscience Research seminar series at Birkbeck University.

These seminars are held in Room 534 in Birkbeck Main Building (Malet Street) and are open to the public.

Further information can be found here:

Jenni Rodd is Looking to Recruit PhD Students for October 2018 Entry

Some current members of The Word Lab: Jenni Rodd, Rachael Hulme, Eva Poort, Hannah Betts, and Becky Gilbert

Interested in joining The Word Lab? Dr Jenni Rodd is looking to recruit PhD students to work on language comprehension/learning for October 2018 entry.

Funding is available through competitive ESRC Studentships, application for which is now open:

The deadline for preliminary applications for funding through this scheme is TUESDAY 9 JANUARY 2018 at 4.00pm (GMT).

Potential applicants are encouraged to get in touch: j.rodd(at)

New Paper in Press at Cortex


Glyn Hallam and colleagues have a new paper in press at Cortex, on which Jenni Rodd is a co-author. The details of the article can be found below:


Task-based and resting-state fMRI reveal compensatory network changes following damage to left inferior frontal gyrus


Glyn P. Hallam, Hannah E. Thompson, Mark Hymers, Rebecca E. Millman, Jennifer M. Rodd, Matthew A. Lambon Ralph, Jonathan Smallwood, and Elizabeth Jefferies


Damage to left inferior prefrontal cortex in stroke aphasia is associated with semantic deficits reflecting poor control over conceptual retrieval, as opposed to loss of knowledge. However, little is known about how functional recruitment within the semantic network changes in patients with executive-semantic deficits. The current study acquired fMRI data from 14 patients with semantic aphasia, who had difficulty with flexible semantic retrieval following left prefrontal damage, and 16 healthy age-matched controls, allowing us to examine activation and connectivity in the semantic network. We examined neural activity while participants listened to spoken sentences that varied in their levels of lexical ambiguity and during rest. We found group differences in two regions thought to be good candidates for functional compensation: ventral anterior temporal lobe (vATL), which is strongly implicated in comprehension, and posterior middle temporal gyrus (pMTG), which is hypothesized to work together with left inferior prefrontal cortex to support controlled aspects of semantic retrieval. The patients recruited both of these sites more than controls in response to meaningful sentences. Subsequent analysis identified that, in control participants, the recruitment of pMTG to ambiguous sentences was inversely related to functional coupling between pMTG and anterior superior temporal gyrus (aSTG) at rest, while the patients showed the opposite pattern. Moreover, stronger connectivity between pMTG and aSTG in patients was associated with better performance on a test of verbal semantic association, suggesting that this temporal lobe connection supports comprehension in the face of damage to left inferior prefrontal cortex. These results characterize network changes in patients with executive-semantic deficits and converge with studies of healthy participants in providing evidence for a distributed system underpinning semantic control that includes pMTG in addition to left inferior prefrontal cortex.