Semantic memory redux

An experimental test of hierarchical category representation

Gregory Murphy, James A. Hampton, Goran S. Milovanovic

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Four experiments investigated the classic issue in semantic memory of whether people organize categorical information in hierarchies and use inference to retrieve information from them, as proposed by Collins and Quillian (1969). Past evidence has focused on RT to confirm sentences such as "All birds are animals" or "Canaries breathe." However, confounding variables such as familiarity and associations between the terms have led to contradictory results. Our experiments avoided such problems by teaching subjects novel materials. Experiment 1 tested an implicit hierarchical structure in the features of a set of studied objects (e.g., all brown objects were large). Experiment 2 taught subjects nested categories of artificial bugs. In Experiment 3, subjects learned a tree structure of novel category hierarchies. In all three, the results differed from the predictions of the hierarchical inference model. In Experiment 4, subjects learned a hierarchy by means of paired associates of novel category names. Here we finally found the RT signature of hierarchical inference. We conclude that it is possible to store information in a hierarchy and retrieve it via inference, but it is difficult and avoided whenever possible. The results are more consistent with feature comparison models than hierarchical models of semantic memory.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalJournal of Memory and Language
DOIs
StateAccepted/In press - 2012

Fingerprint

Dexfenfluramine
Semantics
semantics
Canaries
Data storage equipment
Confounding Factors (Epidemiology)
experiment
Birds
Names
Teaching
Experiments
model comparison
Experiment
Semantic Memory
Animals
animal
Inference
evidence

Keywords

  • Categories
  • Concepts
  • Hierarchies
  • Semantic memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Linguistics and Language
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Language and Linguistics

Cite this

Semantic memory redux : An experimental test of hierarchical category representation. / Murphy, Gregory; Hampton, James A.; Milovanovic, Goran S.

In: Journal of Memory and Language, 2012.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

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