Homework Help Needed I need help to summarize Jalbert 2011 working memory article. I only need to summarize experiment #2 When Does Length Cause the Word L

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Homework Help Needed I need help to summarize Jalbert 2011 working memory article. I only need to summarize experiment #2 When Does Length Cause the Word Length Effect?

Annie Jalbert and Ian Neath
Memorial University of Newfoundland

Tamra J. Bireta
The College of New Jersey

Aimée M. Surprenant
Memorial University of Newfoundland

The word length effect, the finding that lists of short words are better recalled than lists of long words,
has been termed one of the benchmark findings that any theory of immediate memory must account for.
Indeed, the effect led directly to the development of working memory and the phonological loop, and it
is viewed as the best remaining evidence for time-based decay. However, previous studies investigating
this effect have confounded length with orthographic neighborhood size. In the present study, Experi-
ments 1A and 1B revealed typical effects of length when short and long words were equated on all
relevant dimensions previously identified in the literature except for neighborhood size. In Experiment
2, consonant–vowel– consonant (CVC) words with a large orthographic neighborhood were better
recalled than were CVC words with a small orthographic neighborhood. In Experiments 3 and 4, using
two different sets of stimuli, we showed that when short (1-syllable) and long (3-syllable) items were
equated for neighborhood size, the word length effect disappeared. Experiment 5 replicated this with
spoken recall. We suggest that the word length effect may be better explained by the differences in
linguistic and lexical properties of short and long words rather than by length per se. These results add
to the growing literature showing problems for theories of memory that include decay offset by rehearsal
as a central feature.

Keywords: word length, orthographic neighborhood, working memory

The word length effect, the finding that lists of short words (e.g.,
cat, boat, pear, etc.) are recalled better than lists of long words
(e.g., gorilla, hovercraft, banana, etc.) has played such a signifi-
cant a role in the development of theories of memory that it is now
regarded as a “benchmark finding” that current theories of short-
term or working memory must address (cf. Lewandowsky &
Farrell, 2008). Indeed, the basic finding is one of the core phe-
nomena that led directly to the development of the phonological
loop component of working memory (Baddeley, 1992), has been
termed the “best remaining solid evidence” for the existence of
such temporary memory systems (Cowan, 1995, p. 42), and is the
focus of many computational models (e.g., Brown & Hulme, 1995;

Burgess & Hitch, 1999; Hulme, Surprenant, Bireta, Stuart, &
Neath, 2004; Neath & Nairne, 1995; Page & Norris, 1998). In this
article, we consider evidence that questions the idea that length per
se is the critical factor underlying the word length effect.

The first systematic exploration of the word length effect was
reported by Baddeley, Thomson, and Buchanan (1975), although
the basic finding was known earlier (e.g., Watkins, 1972). In a
series of experiments, Baddeley et al. (1975) identified two ways
in which word length can have an effect on memory performance.
The time-based word length effect is shown with words that are
equated on all dimensions, including the number of syllables and
phonemes, but vary systematically only in the time required to
pronounce the words. In contrast, the syllable-based word length
effect is demonstrated when the short and long words vary not only
in pronunciation time but also in the number of syllables and
phonemes.

According to the working memory framework, both effects are
explained in the same way: Items in the phonological loop decay
within about 2 s if not refreshed by an articulatory control process.
Given the assumption that there is a positive correlation between
the rate of subvocal rehearsal and overt pronunciation time, it will
take longer to refresh a list of long words than a list of short words,
and therefore, the general prediction is that lists of items that take
longer to pronounce will be worse recalled than otherwise com-
parable lists of items that take less time to pronounce.

The Time-Based Word Length Effect

The time-based word length effect was established in two initial
studies. In their Experiment 3, Baddeley et al. (1975) showed that

This article was published Online First December 20, 2010.
Annie Jalbert, Ian Neath, and Aimée M. Surprenant, Department of

Psychology, Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John’s, New-
foundland and Labrador, Canada; Tamra J. Bireta, Psychology Depart-
ment, The College of New Jersey.

Some of this work was presented at the 49th Annual Meeting of the
Psychonomic Society, Chicago, IL, November 2008 and at the 19th Annual
Meeting of the Canadian Society for Brain, Behaviour, and Cognitive
Science, York, England, July 2009. This research was supported by grants
from the National Sciences and Engineering Research Council to Annie
Jalbert, Ian Neath, and Aimée M. Surprenant. We thank Caroline Barnes
for assistance testing participants.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Annie
Jalbert, Psychology Department, Memorial University of Newfoundland,
St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador A1B 3X9, Canada. E-mail:
annie.jalbert@mun.ca

Journal of Experimental Psychology: © 2010 American Psychological Association
Learning, Memory, and Cognition
2011, Vol. 37, No. 2, 338 –353

0278-7393/10/$12.00 DOI: 10.1037/a0021804

338

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lists of disyllabic words that could be said quickly (bishop, pectin
ember, wicket, wiggle, pewter, tipple, hackle, decor, phallic) were
recalled better than lists of disyllabic words that took longer to
pronounce (Friday, coerce, humane, harpoon, nitrate, cyclone,
morphine, tycoon, voodoo, zygote). In Experiment 4, a subset of
these words was used such that the short and long words were
equated for the number of syllables, the number of phonemes
(given Scottish pronunciation), and frequency. Once again, a word
length effect obtained: The words that took less time to say were
recalled better than the words that took more time to say. These
results were taken as support for the phonological loop component
of working memory (Baddeley, 1986).

Many studies have since replicated this time-based word length
effect with the original stimuli (e.g., Cowan, Day, Saults, Kellar,
Johnson, & Flores, 1992; Longoni, Richardson, & Aiello, 1993;
Lovatt, Avons, & Masterson, 2000; Nairne, Neath, & Serra, 1997).
However, there are no other sets of stimuli that produce this result.
For example, Neath, Bireta, and Surprenant (2003) tested four
different sets of short and long words that were equated for the
number of syllables and phonemes but differed in pronunciation
time; only the original Baddeley et al. (1975) stimuli produced a
word length effect. An additional set of English words (Lovatt et
al., 2000) and a set of Finnish nonwords (Service, 1998) also failed
to yield a time-based word length effect. Thus, whereas one set of
words consistently produces the effect, five other sets of stimuli do
not. Neath et al. concluded that the time-based word length effect
was due to some unknown property of the original stimuli. They
noted that unless a large number of other stimulus sets are shown
to generate a difference in recall based solely on pronunciation
time, it is reasonable to conclude that the time-based word length
effect does not exist. This poses a problem for theories that
incorporate something like the phonological loop.

The Syllable-Based Word Length Effect

In contrast to the time-based word length effect, the syllable-
based word length effect is robust and has been demonstrated with
numerous sets of stimuli. However, there are still disagreements
about the cause of this effect. One class of theories, based on the
phonological loop, invokes an explanation based on the trade-off
between decay and pronunciation time (e.g., Baddeley, 1986,
2003; Burgess & Hitch, 1999; Page & Norris, 1998), the lack of a
pure time-based effect notwithstanding. To generate evidence in
support of this view, researchers began examining recall of short
and long items in pure and mixed lists. Using a computational
model that incorporates the assumptions of the phonological loop,
Burgess and Hitch (1999; Figure 16) generated the prediction that
recall of lists made up of a mixture of short and long lists would
fall between that of pure short and pure long lists. The list that can
be rehearsed most quickly, the pure short list, will be recalled best,
and the list that takes the longest amount of time to rehearse, the
pure long list, will be recalled worst. The mixed lists will take less
time to rehearse than will the pure long lists but more time to
rehearse than the pure short lists, and so recall level will be
intermediate.

In contrast, theories based on item (rather than list) properties
make quite different predictions. For example, the feature model
(Neath & Nairne, 1995) assumes that long items have more seg-
ments than short items and that at some point during the retrieval

process, the segments need to be assembled. If one assumes a fixed
probability of making an assembly error, then a word length effect
will obtain. According to this account, list composition does not
matter: short items in mixed lists should be recalled just like short
items in pure lists. Similarly, Brown and Hulme (1995) proposed
a model in which rehearsal plays no role at all, but rather, differ-
ential decay of individual items is what leads to the word length
effect. Because items decay at their given rate regardless of list
composition, this account also predicts that recall of short items
will be identical whether presented in a pure list or mixed with
long items.

Although the predictions of both classes of models are clear-cut,
the empirical results are not. Cowan, Baddeley, Elliott, and Norris
(2003) included lists of pure short words (1 syllable), pure long
words (5 syllable), and mixed lists that contained three short and
three long words. Although performance in the mixed lists was in
between that of the pure lists, as predicted by the phonological
loop accounts, recall of short words from mixed lists was still
better than recall of long words from mixed lists, a result predicted
by the item-based accounts. Hulme et al. (2004) reported a differ-
ent pattern of results. They found, in two experiments, that recall
of short items in mixed lists was equivalent to recall of long items
in mixed lists, a result predicted by the list-based view, but recall
of these items was equivalent to recall of short items in pure lists.
The item-based view predicts that only short items from mixed
lists would be recalled as well as short items from pure lists.

Bireta, Neath, and Surprenant (2006) argued that the difference
in the pattern of results was attributable to particular properties of
the stimulus sets used. Bireta et al. (2006) replicated the results
reported by Cowan et al. (2003) when using Cowan et al.’s (2003)
stimuli, and also replicated the results reported by Hulme et al.
(2004) when using Hulme et al.’s (2004) stimuli. Bireta et al.
(2006) noted that neither the item-based accounts nor the list-based
accounts (i.e., the phonological loop) could predict either pattern in
its entirety. Just as with the time-based word length effect, then,
aspects of the syllable-based word length effect appear to vary
depending on the particular stimuli used.

The Phonological Loop Model Revisited

As more and more results were being published that contra-
dicted the central claims of the phonological loop hypothesis,
Mueller, Seymour, Kieras, and Meyer (2003, p. 1353) published an
article in which they argued that these earlier results may have
been due to “less than ideal measurements of articulatory duration
and phonological similarity.” To address the former, they intro-
duced a different way of measuring the pronunciation time of the
to-be-remembered items. To replace the various methods that have
been used in the literature, Mueller et al. (2003) developed a
procedure in which participants memorize a sequence of words
and then produce the sequence from memory at least twice both
“rapidly and accurately” (p. 1362). This procedure is then repeated
with different orderings of the words, and the subsequent times
analyzed.

To address the second issue, Mueller et al. (2003) developed a
new measure of phonological dissimilarity called PSIMETRICA
(Phonological Similarity Metric Analysis). Phonological dissimi-
larity between words is multidimensional and based on relevant
dimensions like stress patterns and syllable onset. In order to

339LENGTH AND THE WORD LENGTH EFFECT

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compare words for dissimilarity using PSIMETRICA, each word
is first decomposed into phonemes. Each syllable of a word is
assumed to be composed of three different phoneme clusters; the
onset (first consonants), the nucleus (vowels), and the coda (last
consonants). The next step is to align the phoneme clusters in pairs
of words. After the clusters have been aligned, the phonological
dissimilarity is measured to obtain a dissimilarity profile. Two
identical clusters have a dissimilarity value of 0 and two very
different clusters have a dissimilarity value closer to 1. The dis-
similarity values for different phonemes can be calculated using a
table of phonological features based on Chomsky and Halle’s
(1968) system. For a given set of words, the dissimilarity measure
is comprised of the average of the dissimilarity value of all
possible word pairs from the set. For a more detailed description of
PSIMETRICA, see pages 1357–1361 of Mueller et al. (2003).

Mueller et al. (2003) reported two experiments, one of which
they stated demonstrated a time-based word length effect and the
other of which demonstrated a syllable-based word length effect.
They argued that these “confirm and extend the predictions of the
phonological-loop model” (Mueller et al., 2003, p. 1353).

However, the results are not as unambiguous as they initially
appear, for three reasons. First, their method of measuring pronun-
ciation time has been criticized. For example, Lewandowsky and
Oberauer (2008) noted that by using the time to reproduce the lists
from memory as their measure of duration, Mueller et al. (2003)
are “predicting accuracy in immediate serial recall from speed in
immediate serial recall” (p. 879). This makes it difficult to claim it
as a true prediction, as both measures—accuracy and latency—are
typically highly correlated.

A second issue is that by one measure, Mueller et al. (2003) did
not, in fact, demonstrate a time-based word length effect. The
experiment involved three sets of words: simple short (Set 7),
simple long (Set 8), and complex long (Set 9). For a pure effect,
there needs to be a difference between simple short and simple
long words because the complex long differs from the simple short
in at least two ways (i.e., length and complexity). Although mem-
ory span for Set 7 was 5.21, compared with 5.05 for Set 8, this
difference was not reported as statistically significant (see Mueller
et al., 2003, p. 1371).

The third issue involves the evidence for a syllable-based word
length effect. Like other researchers, Mueller et al. (2003) used a
set of short and long words that confounded length with ortho-
graphic neighborhood size, and thus it is not clear which difference
is driving the effect. Of importance, the confound is the same one
prevalent in the literature, and we now turn to this issue.

Stimulus Set Specificity and Neighborhood Effects

Despite the empirical and theoretical disagreements in the word
length effect literature, one aspect has become increasingly appar-
ent: the particular stimulus set used can critically determine
whether effects of length will be seen (e.g., Bireta et al., 2006;
Lovatt et al., 2000; Neath et al., 2003; see also Lewandowsky &
Oberauer, 2008). Researchers do attempt to equate the short and
long words on all relevant dimensions, but it is difficult, if not
impossible, to anticipate every dimension of importance.

One factor rarely considered in such studies concerns the lexical
neighbors of the to-be-remembered items. Words that are similar
to a target word are referred to as its neighbors, and the set of these

words is referred to as the target word’s neighborhood (cf. M.
Coltheart, Davelaar, Jonasson, & Besener, 1977). Similarity can be
defined on the basis of a word’s orthography (M. Coltheart et al.,
1977) or by its phonology (Luce & Pisoni, 1998). An orthographic
neighbor is a word of the same length as the target that differs by
only one letter. For example, given the word cat, the words bat, fat,
cot, cut, cab, can, and so on, are all considered orthographic
neighbors. A phonological neighbor is one that differs from the
target word by the substitution of a single phoneme at any position
(Roodenrys, Hulme, Lethbridge, Hinton, & Nimmo, 2002).1

Two published articles have demonstrated better recall of words
with a large neighborhood than otherwise comparable words with
a small neighborhood. In their Experiment 1, Roodenrys et al.
(2002) used consonant–vowel– consonant (CVC) words, manipu-
lating both neighborhood size (small vs. large) and frequency of
the target words. The task was memory span, using spoken recall,
and the words were presented auditorily. Memory span was higher
for words with larger neighborhoods than those with smaller
neighborhoods. In Experiment 3, they used a second set of CVC
words, this time manipulating frequency of items that comprise the
neighborhood as well as neighborhood size. Again, span was
higher for words with larger neighborhoods. Finally, Experiment 4
used a third set of CVC words, manipulating word frequency,
neighborhood size, and neighborhood frequency. The beneficial
effect of neighborhood size was replicated.

Allen and Hulme (2006, Experiment 2) used the stimuli from
Experiment 1 of Roodenrys et al. (2002), but with a slightly
different task. Their participants heard a list of seven words and
were then given a spoken immediate serial recall test. Despite the
change in test, memory was again better for words with a larger
neighborhood than those with a smaller neighborhood.

This beneficial effect of neighborhood size is not limited to just
words; it is also observed with pronounceable nonwords (for a
review, see Roodenrys, 2009). The neighborhood of a nonword
can be defined as all of the valid words that can be produced by the
substitution of a letter (for orthographic neighborhood) or pho-
neme (for phonological neighborhood). Roodenrys and Hinton
(2002, Experiment 2) asked subjects to listen to lists of four
nonwords and then immediately repeat them back in order. Per-
formance was better for nonwords with large neighborhoods than
those with small neighborhoods. Thus, three sets of English words
and one set of nonwords produce a recall advantage for items with
a large neighborhood over those with a small neighborhood.2

Of relevance to the word length effect, short English words tend
to have more neighbors— both orthographic and phonological—
than do long words, and so neighborhood size is likely to be

1 There is a subtle difference between the Luce and Pisoni (1998)
definition of a phonological neighbor and the M. Coltheart et al. (1977)
definition of an orthographic neighbor. The former also includes all words
that differ from the target word by the addition or deletion of a single
phoneme in any position. Thus, the Luce and Pisioni definition includes
scat and at as (phonological) neighbors of cat, whereas the M. Coltheart et
al. definition does not include either as (orthographic) neighbors of cat.

2 Goh and Pisoni (2003) found better recall of low neighborhood words
than high neighborhood words. However, there are a number of differences
in stimuli and experimental design which make it difficult to reconcile the
results with those of Roodenrys et al. (2002); Allen and Hulme (2006), and
those reported in the current article.

340 JALBERT, NEATH, BIRETA, AND SURPRENANT

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confounded in word length effect experiments. To assess this, we
examined published studies on the syllable-based word length
effect that used English words. For those studies that report the
stimuli used, we obtained measures of orthographic neighborhood
size using the Medler and Binder (2005) database, which is based
on the CELEX database.3 Table 1 lists the results. In all studies
examined, short words had a larger orthographic neighborhood
than did long words. One study in particular is highly suggestive:
V. Coltheart, Mondy, Dux, and Stephenson (2004, Experiment 1)
had three sets of stimuli: short one-syllable words (four letters),
long one-syllable words (six or seven letters), and three-syllable
words (six or seven letters). The task was immediate serial recall
of five-item lists presented at a rate of one item per second. The
orthographic neighborhood size for the three types of items was
7.80, 1.03, and 0.48, respectively. Recall level followed both word
length (defined by the number of letters) and orthographic neigh-
borhood size: .76 for the shortest words, .62 for the intermediate
length words, and .56 for the longest words.

Given the confound between word length and orthographic
neighborhood (see Table 1) and given that words with a large
neighborhood are better recalled than words with a small neigh-
borhood (Roodenrys et al., 2002; Allen & Hulme, 2006), the
present series of studies was designed to assess the extent to which
neighborhood size affects the word length effect. The first two
experiments were designed to show that a syllable-based word
length effect (Experiments 1A and 1B) and an orthographic neigh-
borhood effect (Experiment 2) are observable in our paradigm.
Experiments 3 and 4 each used a different set of short and long
words, but this time the short and long words were equated for
orthographic neighborhood size. In Experiment 5, we replicated
the method from Experiment 3 using spoken recall instead of a
strict reconstruction of order test to see if the results could be
replicated with a different recall method. To anticipate the results,
effects of length were observed when length was confounded with
orthographic neighborhood size but were not observed when or-

thographic neighborhood size was equated for short and long
items.

Experiment 1A

The purpose of Experiment 1A was to demonstrate that typical
word length effects are observable with our methodology. We
created a new set of short (one syllable) and long (three syllable)
items that were equated for frequency, concreteness, imageability,
and familiarity, as well as for phonological dissimilarity as mea-
sured by PSIMETRICA. We did not equate for orthographic
neighborhood size or frequency. Second, we included mixed lists
in addition to pure lists to provide additional data on the effects of
list composition on the word length effect. Third, we used written
serial recall.

Method

Participants. Sixteen undergraduate students from Memorial
University of Newfoundland participated in exchange for a small
honorarium. All participants were native English speakers.

Stimuli. A set of 15 short words and 15 long words was
created (see Appendix A). The words were equated for familiarity,
frequency (both Kucera-Francis and Thorndike-Lorge), concrete-
ness, and imageability using the Medical Research Council Psy-
cholinguistics database (http://www.psy.uwa.edu.au/mrcdatabase/
uwa_mrc.htm). In addition, the set of short and long words were
equated for phonological dissimilarity using Mueller et al.’s (2003)
PSIMETRICA. The short words had a dissimilarity measure of
.31, compared with .30 for the long words. However, the short and
long words differed significantly in orthographic neighborhood
size, t(28) � 5.456, p � .001, with values typical of those in
previous studies (9.00 vs. 0.22).

Design and procedure. There were four types of lists: Pure
lists that contained only short words, pure lists that contained only
long words, mixed lists that alternated short and long words (i.e.,
short long short long short long), and mixed lists that alternated
long and short words (i.e., long short long short long short). There
were 15 trials for each type of list, randomly ordered for each
participant.

On each trial, six words were randomly selected from the pool
and were presented at a rate of one item per second on a computer
screen. At the end of list presentation, the participants were asked
to write down, in order, the words they had just seen. Strict serial
recall instructions were given, such that participants were in-
structed to write the items in their exact order of presentation,
beginning with the first one. They were told to leave a blank line
if they could not recall an item at a given serial position and were
instructed not to backtrack to fill a blank. There was no time limit
for recall. Once the participant had finished recalling the words, he
or she clicked on a button on the computer to begin the next list.

3 We focus on orthographic rather than phonological neighborhood
effects for simplicity, as one need not worry about differences in pronun-
ciation (and thus phonemes) as a function of geographic region. The
available data suggest both phonological and orthographic neighborhoods
are highly correlated, and indeed, the measures are often confounded (cf.
Yates, Locker, & Simpson, 2004).

Table 1
Orthographic Neighborhood Size for Short and Long Words in
Syllable-Based Word Length Studies and the Current Study

Study

Word length

Short Long

Baddeley et al. (1975, Experiment 6) 2.88 0.00
Baddeley et al. (2002, Experiment 1) 7.20 0.30
V. Coltheart et al. (2004, Experiment 1) 7.80 0.48
Cowan et al. (1994) 10.00 0.17
Cowan et al. (1997, Experiment 2) 14.17 0.17
Cowan et al. (2003) 6.33 0.33
Hulme & Tordoff (1989) 9.83 0.00
LaPointe & Engle (1990, Experiment 5) 8.37 0.31
McNeil & Johnston (2004, Experiment 1) 8.63 0.25
Mueller et al. (2003, Experiment 1) 8.42 0.17
Romani et al. (2005, Experiment 1) 7.25 0.38
Russo & Grammatopoulou (2003, Experiment 6) 8.40 0.00
Tehan & Turcotte (2002, Experiment 1) 12.60 0.60

M 8.61 0.24
Experiments 1A and 1B 9.00 0.20
Experiments 3 and 5 1.00 1.00
Experiment 4 2.00 2.00

341LENGTH AND THE WORD LENGTH EFFECT

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Participants were tested individually, and an experimenter was
present throughout to ensure compliance with the instructions.

Results

A word was considered correctly recalled only if it was written
in the correct order. Following Hulme et al. (2004), we constructed
derived lists for short and long words presented in mixed lists.
Thus, short words in mixed lists combined the first, third, and fifth
words from the short long short long short long list and the second,
fourth, and sixth words from the long short long short long short
list. In this and all subsequent analyses, the .05 level of signifi-
cance was adopted.

As the left panel of Figure 1 shows, a classic word length effect
was observed in the pure lists, with substantially better recall of
short words than long words. However, recall of short and long
words from mixed lists did not differ from each other, with
performance intermediate between that of short words in pure lists
and long words in pure lists.

A 2 � 2 repeated measures analysis of variance (ANOVA) with
word length (short and long) and list type (pure and mixed) as
within subject factors confirmed these observations. There was a
main effect of word length, F(1, 15) � 45.05, MSE � 0.003,
partial �2 � .750, with more short words correctly recalled in
order than long words (.715 vs. .616, respectively). There was also
a main effect of list type, F(1, 15) � 6.12, MSE � 0.004, partial
�2 � .290, with slightly more words correctly recalled in order in
mixed lists than pure lists (.685 vs. .646, respectively). These two
factors also interacted, F(1, 15) � 46.14, MSE � 0.003, partial
�2 � .755. This was due to a large difference between recall of
short and long words in pure lists (.745 vs. .547) and no difference
between …

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