Semantic categorisation of a word supports its phonological integrity in verbal short-term memory

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Savill, Nicola ; Metcalfe, Tim ; Ellis, Andrew W. ; Jefferies, Elizabeth (2015)

In three immediate serial recall (ISR) experiments we tested the hypothesis that interactive processing between semantics and phonology supports phonological coherence in verbal short-term memory (STM). Participants categorised spoken words in six-item lists as they were presented, according to their semantic or phonological properties, then repeated the items in presentation order (Experiment 1). Despite matched categorisation performance between conditions, semantically-categorised words were correctly recalled more often than phonologically-categorised words. This accuracy advantage in the semantic condition was accompanied by fewer phoneme recombination errors. Comparisons with a no- categorisation ISR baseline (Experiment 2) indicated that, although categorisations were disruptive overall, recombination errors were specifically rarer following semantic cate- gorisation. Experiment 3 replicated the key findings from Experiment 1 and also revealed fewer phonologically-related errors following semantic categorisation compared to a per- ceptual categorisation of high or low pitch. Therefore, augmented activation of semantic representations stabilises the phonological traces of words within verbal short-term memory, in line with the ‘‘semantic binding” hypothesis.
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