A Further Examination of Word Frequency and Age-of-Acquisition Effects in English Lexical Decision Task Performance: The Role of Frequency Trajectory

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Word frequency is an important predictor of lexical-decision task performance. The current study further examined the role of this variable by exploring the influence of frequency trajectory. Frequency trajectory is measured by how often a word occurs in childhood relative to adulthood. Past research on the role of this variable in word recognition has produced equivocal results. In the current study, words were selected based on their frequencies in Grade 1 (child frequency) and Grade 13 (college frequency). In Experiment 1, four frequency trajectory conditions were factorially examined in a lexical-decision task with English words: high-to-high (world), high-to-low (uncle), low-to-high (brain) and low-to-low (opera). an interaction between Grade 1 and college frequency demonstrated that words in the low-to-high condition were processed significantly faster and more accurately than words in the low-to-low condition, whereas the high-to-high and high-to-low conditions did not differ significantly. In Experiment 2, an advantage for words with an increasing frequency trajectory was also supported in regression analyses on both lexical decision and naming times for 3,039 items selected from the English Lexicon Project (Balota et al., 2007). This was replicated in Experiment 3, based on a regression analysis of 2,680 words from the British Lexicon Project (BLP; Keuleers, Lacey, Rastle, & Brysbaert, 2012). In all analyses, rated age-of-acquisition also significantly impacted word recognition. Together, the results suggest that the age at which a word is initially learned as well as its frequency trajectory across childhood impact performance in the lexical-decision task.

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