Feature-Frequency Effects in Recognition Memory

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Recognition Memory, Mirror Effect, Rare Word, Uncommon Feature, Letter Frequency.

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Rare words are usually better recognized than common words, a finding in recognition memory known as the word-frequency effect. Some theories predict the word-frequency effect because they assume that rare words consist of more distinctive features than do common words (e.g., Shiffrin & Steyvers's, 1997, REM theory). In this study, recognition memory was tested for words that vary in the commonness of their orthographic features, and we found that recognition was best for words made up of primarily rare letters. In addition, a mirror effect was observed: Words with rare letters had a higher hit rate and a lower false-alarm rate than did words with common letters. We also found that normative word frequency affects recognition independently of letter frequency. Therefore, the distinctiveness of a word's orthographic features is one, but not the only, factor necessary to explain the word-frequency effect.

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Citation / Publisher Attribution

Memory & Cognition, v. 30, issue 4, p. 607-613