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J Exp Psychol Learn Mem Cogn. 2013 Nov;39(6):1943-6. doi: 10.1037/a0033669. Epub 2013 Jul 8.

Parametric effects of word frequency in memory for mixed frequency lists.

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Department of Psychology, University of Pennsylvania.

Erratum in

  • J Exp Psychol Learn Mem Cogn. 2013 Nov;39(6):1725.


[Correction Notice: An Erratum for this article was reported in Vol 39(6) of Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition (see record 2013-27860-001). In the article there were omissions in Figure 1. All versions of this article have been corrected.] The word frequency paradox refers to the finding that low frequency words are better recognized than high frequency words yet high frequency words are better recalled than low frequency words. Rather than comparing separate groups of low and high frequency words, we sought to quantify the functional relation between word frequency and memory performance across the broad range of frequencies typically used in episodic memory experiments. Here we report that both low frequency and high frequency words are better recalled than midfrequency words. In contrast, we only observe a low frequency advantage when participants were given a subsequent item recognition test. The U-shaped relation between word frequency and recall probability may help to explain inconsistent results in studies using mixed lists with separate groups of high and low frequency words.

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