New Paper: Dominance Norms for Spoken Ambiguous Words in British English

Becky Gilbert and Jenni Rodd have published set of dominance norms for ambiguous words in the Journal of Cognition. These were produced by collating data from across a number of different experiments to construct a dataset of 29,542 data points for 243 spoken ambiguous words from UK participants.

This includes resources to help other researchers code word-association responses to ambiguous words in a semi-automated manner, saving researcher time and improving coding consistency. We hope that researchers will add their own data to this database further improving the precision of our dominance estimates.

Gilbert, R. A., & Rodd, J. M. (2022). Dominance Norms and Data for Spoken Ambiguous Words in British English. Journal of Cognition, 5(1): 4, pp. 1–14. DOI:

César Gutiérrez presenting at Psychonomic Society

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A single exposure to both meanings of ambiguous words helps rather than hinders processing of subordinate meanings

Many English words have multiple meanings. Less frequent (subordinate) meanings are harder to access than dominant meanings. Studies have shown that one encounter with subordinate meanings reduces this difficulty. However, natural language exposure includes both meanings and this could increase processing difficulty due to competition. In Experiment 1 60 native English speakers read natural sentences containing ambiguous words (one per meaning) and control sentences containing unambiguous words. Results from a semantic relatedness post-test showed that mixed exposure made subsequent processing of subordinate meanings non-significantly faster and significantly more accurate, with no change for dominant meanings and unambiguous words. Experiment 2 (preregistered, N=182) replicated the mixed-training boost for subordinate meanings in both reaction times and error rates. In addition, we found an unexpected training benefit for the unambiguous items. These results reveal that exposure to both meanings of an ambiguous word enhances performance for the more difficult subordinate meaning.

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.

Anna Gowenlock joins the lab

Anna joins the lab this week as a Research Assistant working on projects funded by the ESRC. Her role involves assisting Lena Blott and Rachael Hulme on multiple projects exploring the different factors that can impact disambiguation skills and meaning comprehension.

She previously studied Linguistics at the University of Cambridge before coming to UCL in 2020 to complete an MSc in Language Sciences. Here she developed an interest in running behavioural experiments online and using these tools to understand more about how we process language. Her masters project explored how we make use of visual cues to enhance auditory perception of speech.

Welcome Back Rachael!

We’re delighted that Dr Rachael Hulme has rejoined the lab as a Postdoctoral Researcher working on our @ESRC project looking at the factors that lead to high-quality lexical-semantic knowledge

Rachael comes to us from Aston where she worked with Dr Jo Taylor and Dr Laura Shapiro on a project exploring vocabulary learning through reading.

Before that Rachael completed her PhD in vocabulary learning here in at UCL with Prof Jenni Rodd

She has recently published an important paper in PeerJ that reveals how immediate testing can boost retention of new vocabulary that is learned through story reading

She has also shown how incidental vocabulary learning from stories is influenced by the number of repetition of the critical words within the stories.

Prof Jenni Rodd to cycle 100 Miles for Kidney Research

On the 1-year anniversary of her Kidney Transplant Jenni will ride from Woolhampton (near Reading) to Addenbrooke’s hospital where her transplant operation took place

She is riding with her Kidney donor brother @ian_rodd on Sept 11th to raise money for @Kidney_Research

Click here for a link to their JustGiving page

or here for a link to a story in her local paper


Jenni and Ian successfully completed their ride. Things didn’t exactly go to plan with an exploding rear tyre necessitating an emergency trip to a local bike shop only 2 miles from where they started riding together.

Here is a picture of them happy, but tired, shortly after arriving into Addenbrookes.

see here for more information in Jenni’s local newspaper

Dominance Norms and Data for Spoken Ambiguous Words in British English

New pre-print from @BeckyAGilbert and @JenniRodd:

We collated data from a number of published experiments and pre-tests to construct a dataset of 29,533 valid word association responses for 243 spoken ambiguous words from participants from the United Kingdom. We provide summary dominance data for the 182 ambiguous words that have a minimum of 100 responses, and a tool for automatically coding new word association responses based on responses in our coded set, which allows additional data to be more easily scored and added to this database. All files can be found at:

Learning new word meanings from story reading: the benefit of immediate testing

This work, led by Rachael Hulme and recently published in PeerJ explores vocabulary learning in adults from stories that were read in their native language.

A set of three experiments found that

  • New words learned incidentally through stories were less susceptible to forgetting over 24 hours compared with a more intentional vocab learning paradigm.
  • Vocab learning was strongly boosted when participants completed a brief test of the new vocab following story reading

See here for a twitter thread that summarises the key message.

Hulme RC, Rodd JM. 2021. Learning new word meanings from story reading: the benefit of immediate testing. PeerJ 9:e11693