Additive Effects of Word Frequency and Stimulus Quality: The Influence of Trial History and Data Transformations

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A counterintuitive and theoretically important pattern of results in the visual word recognition literature is that both word frequency and stimulus quality produce large but additive effects in lexical decision performance. The additive nature of these effects has recently been called into question by Masson and Kliegl (in press), who used linear mixed effects modeling to provide evidence that the additive effects were actually being driven by previous trial history. Because Masson and Kliegl also included semantic priming as a factor in their study and recent evidence has shown that semantic priming can moderate the additivity of word frequency and stimulus quality (Scaltritti, Balota, & Peressotti, 2012), we reanalyzed data from 3 published studies to determine if previous trial history moderated the additive pattern when semantic priming was not also manipulated. The results indicated that previous trial history did not influence the joint influence of word frequency and stimulus quality. More important, and independent of Masson and Kliegl’s conclusions, we also show how a common transformation used in linear mixed effects analyses to normalize the residuals can systematically alter the way in which two variables combine to influence performance. Specifically, using transformed, rather than raw reaction times, consistently produces more underadditive patterns.

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