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

Norman, Rebecca; Hulme, Rachael C; Sarantopoulos, Christina; Chandran, Varsha; Shen, Hantong; Rodd, Jennifer M; Joseph, Holly; (2022) Contextual diversity during word learning through reading benefits generalisation of learned meanings to new contexts. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology , 76 (7) pp. 1658-1671. 10.1177/17470218221126976. Green open access

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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.

Type: Article
Title: Contextual diversity during word learning through reading benefits generalisation of learned meanings to new contexts
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1177/17470218221126976
Publisher version: https://doi.org/10.1177/17470218221126976
Language: English
Additional information: Copyright © Experimental Psychology Society 2022. This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/) which permits any use, reproduction and distribution of the work without further permission provided the original work is attributed as specified on the SAGE and Open Access page (https://us.sagepub.com/en-us/nam/open-access-at-sage).
Keywords: Contextual diversity, word learning, reading, contextual variation, semantic diversity
UCL classification: UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > Div of Psychology and Lang Sciences > Language and Cognition
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences
UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > Div of Psychology and Lang Sciences
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10155594
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