Contextual diversity during word learning through reading benefits generalisation of learned meanings to new contexts

Rebecca Norman, Rachael C. Hulme, Christina Sarantopoulos, Varsha Chandran, Hantong Shen, Jennifer M. Rodd, Holly Joseph, Joanne S. H. Taylor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
8 Downloads (Pure)

Abstract

From mid-childhood onwards, most new words are learned through reading. The precise meaning of many words depends upon the linguistic context in which they are encountered, which readers use to infer the appropriate interpretation. However, it is unclear what features of these linguistic contexts best support learning of new word meanings. We investigated whether learning words in contextually diverse sentences benefits word form and meaning learning in adults (n = 239). Participants learned meanings for 8 pseudowords through reading 10 sentences about each. Four pseudowords were learned in a diverse condition (10 sentences on different topics) and four were learned in a non-diverse condition (10 sentences on the same topic). An old-new decision post-test indicated that diversity did not influence word form learning. In a second post-test, participants chose which trained pseudoword completed a sentence from either an unfamiliar, untrained context, or a familiar, trained context. For familiar contexts, accuracy was higher for pseudowords learned in the non-diverse condition, but for unfamiliar contexts, accuracy was higher for pseudowords learned in the diverse condition. These results suggest that diverse contexts may promote development of flexible, decontextualised meaning representations that are easier to generalise to new contexts. Conversely, non-diverse contexts may favour extraction of context-bound representations that are more easily used in the same context.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1658-1671
Number of pages14
JournalQuarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology
Volume76
Issue number7
Early online date13 Sept 2022
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2023

Keywords

  • Contextual diversity
  • contextual variation
  • reading
  • semantic diversity
  • word learning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Psychology(all)
  • Physiology (medical)

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