Psychonomic bulletin & review | 22 Apr 2015
B Van Rensbergen, G Storms and S De Deyne
Words are characterized by a variety of lexical and psychological properties, such as their part of speech, word-frequency, concreteness, or affectivity. In this study, we examine how these properties relate to a word’s connectivity in the mental lexicon, the structure containing a person’s knowledge of words. In particular, we examine the extent to which these properties display assortative mixing, that is, the extent to which words in the lexicon are more likely to be connected to words that share these properties. We investigated three types of word properties: 1) subjective word covariates: valence, dominance, arousal, and concreteness; 2) lexical information: part of speech; and 3) distributional word properties: age-of-acquisition, word frequency, and contextual diversity. We assessed which of these factors exhibit assortativity using a word association task, where the probability of producing a certain response to a cue is a measure of the associative strength between the cue and response in the mental lexicon. Our results show that the extent to which these aspects exhibit assortativity varies considerably, with a high cue-response correspondence on valence, dominance, arousal, concreteness, and part of speech, indicating that these factors correspond to the words people deem as related. In contrast, we find that cues and responses show only little correspondence on word frequency, contextual diversity, and age-of-acquisition, indicating that, compared to subjective and lexical word covariates, distributional properties exhibit only little assortativity in the mental lexicon. Possible theoretical accounts and implications of these findings are discussed.
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