Associative response heterogeneity: an indicator of stimulus word semantic autonomy

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<ul><li><p>Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, 1987, 28,6Y-74 </p><p>Associative response heterogeneity: an indicator of stimulus word semantic autonomy </p><p>KJELL FLEKKBY Departmenr of Neurology, Ullevaal Hospital, Oslo, Norway </p><p>FlekkGy, K.: Associative response heterogeneity: an indicator of stimulus word semantic autonomy. Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, 1987, 28, 69-74. </p><p>The total number of different responses, given by a group of subjects to a stimulus word in a single-word, free-association situation ( D ) , is a primary determinant of associative response latency (Tecce &amp; Glassco, 1965; Flekkay. 1981). D has traditionally been assumed to reflect a words associative potential, and the increased latency to high D words has been explained by response competition. The results of the present experiments indicate, however, that D reflects in an inverse manner semantic auronomy. high D words requiring more contextual information for their semantic specification than low D words. The process of semantic specification requires time, creating the positive D-response latency relationship. Based on a semantic interpretation of D , associutive response heterogeneity may be used as an index of a words semantic autonomy. </p><p>K. Flekkoy, Department of Ntwrology, Ullevaal Hospiral, Oslo. Norwcry </p><p>Associative response heterogeneity, defined as the number of different responses given to a stimulus word by a group of subjects in a single-word, free-association situation (D), has traditionally been interpreted as the number of different associative responses that the word could give rise to in the individual-the words associutive potenfinl (Laffal, 1955; Stilson, et u l . , 1972). Based on the Kent &amp; Rosanoff (1910) stimulus material, response latency has been shown to be positively related to D (Goldstein, 1961; Tecce &amp; Glossco. 1965). F l e k k ~ y (1973a) found a correlation of 0.83 between these two variables, and in Flekkoy (1981), D was the single most powerful predictor of associative response latency, outranking response frequency and stimulus grammatical form class, commonality and emotionality. Given the original interpretation of D, the positive relationship between D and response latency has been related to response competition: only one response being allowed at a time, a large number of competing associations would be expected to delay the responding. As an avenue for exploring determinants of associative response latency, D will be studied further here. An understanding of D is also important for other reasons: it is of value in itself; it may help to clarify the relationship between group data (on which D is based) and individual data, and it may contribute to an understanding of how words are stored in memory (Estes, 1978). </p><p>EXPERIMENT I: IS D A MEASURE OF INDIVIDUAL, ASSOCIATIVE POTENTIALS? </p><p>Method </p><p>Stimuli were the 50 first Kent-Rosanoff (K-K) words, presented orally (in Norwegian), one word at a time in individual sessions (Kent &amp; Rosanoff, 1910). The subjects were tested twice, a mean of 11 days apart; the first time in a single-word, free-association situation, the second time in a continued association situation. To avoid chain associations, each stimulus word was written on a card and shown to the subject during responding in </p></li><li><p>70 K. Flekk@y Scand J Psycho1 28 (1987) </p><p>the continued situation. The instructions were to return to the stimulus word prior to each response. An interval of 30 sec was allowed for taped responding to each stimulus word, because a previous study had shown that most responses were emitted during the first 15-20 sec. This was independent of the stimulus word (Flekkoy, 1973~). A response was always identified with a single word and only accepted if it could be found in a standard Norwegian dictionary. </p><p>Subjects were 26 students of psychology at the University of Oslo (15 women, 11 men). Their mean age was 21.2 years, range 19-25 years. </p><p>Results and discussion The linear correlation between D and the mean number of different responses given to a stimulus word by the subjects in the continued situation ( m ) was -0.08 (df=49, n.s.). This confirms the results of F lekk~y (1973b). Thus, assuming that m is a valid measure of individual associative domains, D cannot be a measure of such domains. On the same prerequisite, prolonged latencies of high D responses cannot derive from response competition. </p><p>EXPERIMENT 2: D AND STIMULUS EMOTIONALITY </p><p>Method The task (Flekkoy, 1980) was presented as an investigation of how different people experience common words. In a group session, the subjects were instructed to score each of the 100 K-R words according to strength and quality of the feelings evoked by the stimulus word on a scale extending from -5 to +5. Strong negative feelings were to be scored -5; strong good feelings + 5 , with zero as neutral. The instructions further stressed that the words were to be scored independently of each other, and in a spontane- ous manner. Examples were given, and the subjects were invited to ask questions. A small pamphlet, each page containing one K-R word and the scale, was then handed out, and the session started. The D values of the stimulus words were based on the single-word, free-associative responses given to the full K-R list by 176 normal subjects (Flekk~y, 1981). A test of homogeneity in multinomial trials (Sverdrup, 1964) was used in the analysis of the relationship between D and types of responses. </p><p>Subjects were 11 females and eight male nurses at Ullevaal Hospital, age 23-27 years; mean age 25.7 years. </p><p>Results and discussion The linear correlations between D and the mean emotionality scores representing (a) good and (b) negative feelings, were negligible ( r s O . 10, df=99, p&gt;0.05, based on T-scores) (Guilford, 1965). Furthermore, the mean emotionality score, irrespective of sign, was nearly identical for the 36 highest D (3.6. s.d.=1.8) and the 36 lowest D (3.2, s.d.=1.7) stimulus words (18 from each half of the K-R list). Therefore, the strength of emotions as defined here was not related to D. Similarly, no differences were observed between the highest D and the lowest D words with respect to the number of times they were scored as representing good or negative feelings. There was a tendency, however, for high D words to be scored as representing negative feelings and for the low D words to be neutral. Thus, neither strength, nor direction of emotion evoked by the stimulus words were significantly related to D. </p><p>Intuitively, emotionality might be expected to be related to the production of associations, to response latency (e.g. good emotions contributing to easy access and short </p></li><li><p>Sand J Psycho1 28 (1987) Associative response heterogeneify 71 </p><p>latency), and t o sorting behaviour in word sorting tasks (see Exp. 3 ) . The results indicate, however, that emotionality as defined here is not related to D, nor to variables with which D is associated. The latter implication was brought out in Flekksy (1980) who found no correlation between response latency and strength of good and negative feelings, respectively. </p><p>EXPERIMENT 3: D AND HETEROGENEITY OF WORD SORTING </p><p>Method The task was to sort K-R nouns into groups on the basis of similarity of semantic meaning. It was introduced as an investigation of differences among people with respect to their interpretation of common words. First, the subject was shown 16 K-R words, each printed on small cards. The instructions continued (in Norwegian): You will be given several sets of words, similar to the present set and containing about the same number of words. For each set your task will be to group words together according to their similarity of meaning. including as many words in each group as you wish. That is, you may choose to combine all the words in a set into one group, or just to include one word. When you select words for a group, try to think of what each word means, what it refers to, independently of the other words (semantic meaning). Two new sets of words were presented to the subject, three and nine words in each, and various combinations were demonstrated to clarify the differences between associative, emotive, and semantic meaning. The following is an example of a semantic sorting of the nine-word set: (a) Anirnnl, ,\.lother, Boy; (b) Ship, Craft; (c) Sweat, Tears; (d) Jeafoicsy, Sorrow. The subject was asked to return to the 16 words originally shown to him, and to sort these into groups according to semantic similarity, the experimenter endeavouring to correct any sorting based on emotive and associative rather than semantic connections between the words. After necessary explana- tions, the experimenter proceeded to present the stimulus words: 56 nouns from the K-R list, divided into two sets of high D and two sets of low D words, each set containing 12-16 words. From now on. the sorting was recorded without further comments. Each set of words was presented in a scrambled fashion, one set at a time, the sequence of high D and low D sets being random. One high D and one low D set was taken from the 50 first K-R words, the two other sets from the 50 last K-R words. The D values were based on 176 persons (Flekksy, 1981). The subject was told to be spontaneous in his sorting, but he could have the time he needed. If a word had several distinctly different meanings, he was to base his sorting on the first meaning that came to mind. The task was performed in individual sessions. </p><p>Data analysis The principal question asked was this: how often are the same two words sorted together by two or more individuals? If only one word was included in a group in a given sorting, the same question was asked for this one word. The sorting of each person was thus compared with that of every other person. The number of words in each grouping differed across subjects, and therefore with respect to the number of permutations possible. This is a relevant factor, since the chance of two words being combined by any two subjects increases in parallel to the size of the group. This factor was taken into account by adding the number of possible permutations represented by the number of words in each group for each subject, subtracting the number of identical combinations between two individuals. The similarity between any two subjects was expressed as a fraction of the modified sum of the total number of possible permutations. </p></li><li><p>72 K . Flekkoy Scand J Pbychol28 (1957) </p><p>To obtain an estimate of the extent to which the subjects based their sorting on semantic meaning, the various groupings of words were given to three judges who independently, and without knowledge of the D status of the individual words, were to decide if any two or more words sorted together had a clearly discernible shared semantic meaning that could be cxplisitly formulated (emotions in the case of Jeufousy and Sorrow above). This was a forced choice experiment in which the judges were to choose between the alternatives Shared semantic meaning and No shared semantic meaning. Cases on which the judges could not reach agreement on a final joint session (1.7%), were excluded. </p><p>Subjecrs were 14 male and 13 female students, age 19-38 years; mean age 24.1 years, </p><p>Results and discussion The mean number of identical combinations across the 27 subjects for high D and low D words were 0.18 (s.d.=O. 1) and 0.27 (s.d.=0.8), respectively (t(54)=7.26, p</p></li><li><p>Scand J Psycho1 ZX (1987) Associative response heterogetteity 73 </p><p>heterogeneity of semantic sorting across subjects indicates that the words differ with respect to their openness for individual interpretation; or to put it the other way around, in their semantic autonomy. Semantic autonomy in this case refers to the extent to which a words semantic realization is independetzt on the context in which it is embedded. </p><p>Correspondingly, IOU- semantic autonomy of a word implies comparatively high dependence on contextual information. In the relatively context-free semantic sorting task, the main source of the information needed for semantic realization appears to be the sub- ject himself, thus allowing intersubject diversity to be revealed as semantic heterogeneity. If high D reflects low semantic autonomy, the sorting task results could be predicted. </p><p>The hypothesis of semantic autonomy is also of relevance for associative responding. The link between stimulus semantic meaning and free-associative responding is probably a fairly strong one. A homonym may give rise to distinctly different associative responses depending on which of its semantic meanings are realized. Flekkoy (1981) found that 67.7% of the single-word free-associative responses to the K-R words ( N = 176) had a clear semantic connection to the stimulus word, and there is a decrease of shared semantic features between the stimulus word and the responses given in a single-word. free- association situation as the latency of the responses increases (Flekkay. 1975). T o the extent that associative responding depends on the semantic meaning of the stimulus word, diversity across subjects in stimulus specification will result in an increased number of different responses (high D ) . The positive D-response latency relationship may derive from the time consumed in generatino, the internal context needed for stimulus specification and in the step of testing the associative response alternatives against the internal context. </p><p>The semantic theory of D has an interesting methodological implication. The single-word free-association situation may be regarded as a method for semantic assessment. and response heterogeneity as an index of a words semantic autonomy. </p><p>The concept of semantic autonomy is also an important complement to central constructs in semantic theory. One example of the latter is Rommetveits (1979) semantic poteiztiolr. defined as drafts of contracts concerning categorization and attribution bound to more comprehensive schemes in ordinary language. Semantic autonomy would here refer to the limits within which the semantic potential would have to be defined. The concept also addresses an important aspect of the representation of word meaning in memory. Whether the word is represented by a set of defining and characterizingpratttres (Smith et a/., 1974), or by interrelated markers (robin implies avian, which in turn implies rrnimate; a defining feature of animal) as conceived by Glass &amp; Holyoak (1975), setizantic autonomy would define the variation in the number of addresses with which a given word is linked to others. </p><p>CONCLUSION </p><p>The traditional interpretation of D as a measure of the stimulus words associative potential in the individual can no longer be upheld, nor can the response competition interpretation of the increased response latency associated with high D words. Instead, the experimental results suggest that D inversely reflects a words semantic autonomy; i.e. the extent to which the semantic specification of a word is...</p></li></ul>

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