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Word frequency, familiarity, and laterality effects in a dichotic listening task

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Although word frequency and familiarity effects are a well-established finding in visual research (Marlsen-Wilson, 1990), these variables are often overshadowed in the selection of words used in dichotic listening tasks in favour of choosing words that fuse together (Connine, Mullenix, Shernoff, & Yenn, 1990). The present study investigates the influence of word frequency and word familiarity on the right ear advantage typically found in dichotic listening. A task using words that did not fuse, and manipulating word frequency and word familiarity was developed. In the task participants were presented with dichotic pairs of words and asked to select the word that they heard the clearest. This task showed that the right ear advantage (REA) was larger when the frequency of the words presented to each ear was the same than when it was different. In addition, the magnitude of the REA was modulated independently by the familiarity of the word presented to the left and to the right ear. Overall, the results of the present study support the notion that word frequency and familiarity should be considered in dichotic tasks. The findings are interpreted in terms of their implications for models of dichotic listening.
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Keywords: Dichotic listening; Familiarity; Laterality; Spoken word recognition; Word frequency

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Mount Royal University, Calgary, Alberta, Canada 2: University of New Brunswick, Fredericton and Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada

Publication date: May 1, 2011

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