Vocab SIG: Re-examining semantic clustering: Insight from memory models

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Tomoko Ishii, Seikei University

It has been repeatedly argued that semantically related words should not be learned together because the learning is impeded. However, the results of past research are not all in agreement, with some providing favorable results for semantic clustering, and some seeming to suggest different types of similarity affect memory in different ways. The types of connections that truly cause the problem therefore need to be discussed more carefully. Focusing on a visual component, which is commonly observed across different models of working memory, a study was conducted to examine if learners have difficulty memorizing a group of words that describe items with a common physical feature. The study compared the learning of three types of word sets: unrelated, semantically related, and physically related. While no statistically significant difference was observed between semantically related and unrelated sets, the scores for physically related sets were significantly lower than those for the other two types. This suggests the possibility that the impeding effect of semantic clustering reported in the past could be partly due to the nature of semantically similar words, which sometimes share visual features.