Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Psychology


The immediate serial recall of words has been found to be affected by the item’s underlying lexical-semantic representation. The influence of these lexical-semantic representations has been taken as evidence demonstrating the involvement of the language system. However, there has been an under-specification on the role of semantics, with the current understanding on the lexical-semantic effects largely based on lexical and phonological effects. In addition, although psycholinguists have developed several measures to tap different aspects of a word’s semantic representation, studies on semantic effects in short-term memory have been mainly on the concreteness effect, emotionality effect, and semantic relatedness effect. The present dissertation explores the influences of semantic features in immediate serial recall to further examine the involvement of semantic knowledge in short-term memory. As a starting point, the number of semantic features (NoF) is varied, and this semantic measure is found to influence how well words are remembered, with high NoF words having a better memorability than low NoF words. The replicability of this effect is demonstrated in subsequent experiments where a potential confound (number of distinguishing features) is identified and manipulated. It is also found that having more distinctive features facilitated recall performance of low NoF words. Further examination of the semantic features effects takes on two approaches in an attempt to vary the demand for semantic processing: (1) Varying the presentation rate; and (2) the inclusion of a semantic encoding task. The former determines the semantic features effects are not affected by how slow or fast the word stimulus is presented. The latter demonstrates similar findings except for the NoF effect which is found to be eliminated when low NoF words are encoded semantically. The research demonstrates the flexibility of the memory system in recruiting a word’s semantic featural information to support its encoding and retrieval.



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