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Vocabulary Knowledge Predicts Lexical Processing: Evidence from a Group of Participants with Diverse Educational Backgrounds

Mainz, N., Shao, Z., Brysbaert, M., & Meyer, A. S. (2017). Vocabulary Knowledge Predicts Lexical Processing: Evidence from a Group of Participants with Diverse Educational Backgrounds. Frontiers in Psychology, 8: 1164. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2017.01164.
Vocabulary knowledge is central to a speaker's command of their language. In previous research, greater vocabulary knowledge has been associated with advantages in language processing. In this study, we examined the relationship between individual differences in vocabulary and language processing performance more closely by (i) using a battery of vocabulary tests instead of just one test, and (ii) testing not only university students (Experiment 1) but young adults from a broader range of educational backgrounds (Experiment 2). Five vocabulary tests were developed, including multiple-choice and open antonym and synonym tests and a definition test, and administered together with two established measures of vocabulary. Language processing performance was measured using a lexical decision task. In Experiment 1, vocabulary and word frequency were found to predict word recognition speed while we did not observe an interaction between the effects. In Experiment 2, word recognition performance was predicted by word frequency and the interaction between word frequency and vocabulary, with high-vocabulary individuals showing smaller frequency effects. While overall the individual vocabulary tests were correlated and showed similar relationships with language processing as compared to a composite measure of all tests, they appeared to share less variance in Experiment 2 than in Experiment 1. Implications of our findings concerning the assessment of vocabulary size in individual differences studies and the investigation of individuals from more varied backgrounds are discussed.

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