Using semantics to enhance new word learning: An ERP investigation

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Abstract

This study aimed to investigate whether the addition of meaning (semantics) would enhance new word learning for novel objects, and whether it would influence the neurophysiological response to new words. Twenty-five young healthy adults underwent 4 days of training to learn the names of 80 novel objects. Half of the items were learnt under a ‘semantic’ condition, whereby the name consisted of a legal nonword and two adjectives denoting semantic attributes. The remaining items were learnt under a ‘name’ condition, whereby the name consisted of a legal nonword and two proper names. Participants demonstrated superior recognition of names in the semantic condition compared to the name condition during training sessions 1–3. On the 5th day, following training, ERPs were recorded whilst participants performed a picture–word judgement task including familiar items. Analysis of the results revealed an N400 for incongruent items in the semantic condition, whilst no ERP component was observed for the name condition. These findings suggest that items learnt with semantic information form stronger associations than those trained without semantics.

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