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Weaker than you might imagine: Determining imageability effects on word recognition

Research output: Contribution to Journal/MagazineJournal articlepeer-review

Article number104398
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>28/02/2023
<mark>Journal</mark>Journal of Memory and Language
Number of pages25
Publication StatusPublished
Early online date30/12/22
<mark>Original language</mark>English


Imageability – the ease of generating a mental image for a word – has been commonly used as a predictor of word recognition but its effects are highly variable across the literature, raising questions about the robustness and stability of the construct. We compared six existing imageability norms in their ability to predict RT and accuracy in lexical decision and word naming across thousands of words. Results showed that, when lexical and sensorimotor sources of variance were partialled out, imageability predicted little unique variance in word recognition performance and effect sizes varied greatly between norms. Further analysis suggested that such heterogenous effect sizes are likely due to inconsistent strategies in how participants interpret and rate imageability in norming studies, despite consistent instructions. Our findings suggest that the ease of generating a mental image for a word does not reliably facilitate word recognition and that imageability ratings should be used with caution in such research.