The number of similar-sounding words that a target word has, or its Phonological Neighborhood Density (PND), has been shown to influence word production. However, reported results are sometimes inconsistent, with studies showing facilitation, inhibition, and null effects of phonological neighbors. These mixed results may be due to the influence of other factors beyond PND. We investigated the potential interactions between a broad measure of PND (bPND), and age of acquisition (AoA), frequency, and name agreement in order to see if the effect of bPND varies as a function of these three variables. We examined the effect of bPND on the latency of picture naming and observed significant interactions between bPND and AoA such that bPND facilitated lexical retrieval for words that were acquired early, but inhibited retrieval for words acquired later in life. We hypothesize that lexical retrieval difficulty ultimately depends on the activation level of the target word’s phonological representations relative to the activation levels of its neighbors’ phonological representations. When phonological features of the target word are weakly activated (i.e., late AoA), and bPND is high, the neighbors’ activation may overshadow the target’s, impeding target retrieval. However, when the target’s phonological representation is strongly activated, the activation of the neighbors might not exceed that of the target, thereby supporting phonological retrieval. We also observed interactions between bPND and name agreement such that increasing bPND led to faster reaction times (RTs), particularly when name agreement was lower, suggesting that bPND may also facilitate word retrieval when lexical competition is high.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
- Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
- Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)