The Word-Frequency Effect For Recognition Memory and the Elevated-Attention Hypothesis

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Recognition Memory, Lexical Decision, Word Frequency, False Alarm Rate, Study Time

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Empirical tests were conducted on theelevated-attention hypothesis that low-frequency (LF) words are better recognized than high-frequency (HF) words because LF words attract more attention than do HF words (e.g., Glanzer & Adams, 1990). The elevated-attention hypothesis predicts that the hit rate advantage for LF words should be reduced by increases in attentional strain at study. We first tested this prediction in two experiments by varying the amount of experimenter-controlled study time (on the basis of the assumption that a decrease in study time would reduce the amount of resources available for studying a word). The elevated-attention hypothesis was confirmed, but only when words were studied for relatively short durations. This finding led us to formulate anearly-phase elevated-attention hypothesis that proposes that more attentional resources are allocated to LF words than to HF words only during the early phase of encoding (which produces the LF hit rate advantage in subsequent recognition) and that the allocation of attentional resources during the late phase of encoding is not greater for LF words than for HF words. An additional empirical test of this revised hypothesis was conducted: Experimenter-controlled study time and the composition of the to-be-remembered pairs of words were varied orthogonally. The results confirmed the early-phase elevated-attention hypothesis.

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Memory & Cognition, v. 31, issue 1, p. 35-43