The role of prior lexical knowledge in children's and adults' incidental word learning from illustrated stories

Emma James, M Gareth Gaskell, Rhiannon Pearce, Caroline Korell, Charlotte Dean, Lisa M Henderson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Children and adults benefit from a new word's phonological neighbors during explicit vocabulary instruction, suggesting that related prior knowledge can support new learning. This study examined the influence of lexical neighborhood structure during incidental word learning-limiting opportunities for strategically engaging prior knowledge-and tested the hypothesis that prior knowledge would provide additional support during subsequent consolidation. Children aged 8-10 years (Experiment 1) and adults (Experiment 2) were presented with 15 pseudowords embedded in a spoken story with illustrations, and were then tested on their recognition and recall of the new word-forms immediately, the next day, and one week later. The pseudowords had either no, one, or many English phonological neighbors, varying the potential connections to existing knowledge. After encountering the pseudowords in this incidental training paradigm, neither children nor adults benefited from phonological neighbors in recall, and children were better at recognizing items without neighbors. The neighbor influence did not change with opportunities for consolidation in either experiment, nor did it relate to learners' existing vocabulary ability. Exploratory analyses revealed that children experienced bigger benefits from offline consolidation overall, with adults outperforming children only for many-neighbor items one week after exposure. We discuss how the neighbor benefit in word learning may be constrained by learning context, and how the enhanced benefits of offline consolidation in childhood extend to vocabulary learning in more naturalistic contexts. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2021 APA, all rights reserved).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1856–1869
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition
Issue number11
Early online date27 Sept 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 27 Sept 2021

Bibliographical note

© 2022 American Psychological Association. This is an author-produced version of the published paper. Uploaded in accordance with the publisher’s self-archiving policy. Further copying may not be permitted; contact the publisher for details

Cite this