Volume 12, Issue 2
  • ISSN 1871-1340
  • E-ISSN: 1871-1375
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  • Busting a myth with the Bayes Factor

    Effects of letter bigram frequency in visual lexical decision do not reflect reading processes

  • Author(s): Xenia Schmalz 1, 2  and Claudio Mulatti 3
  • View Affiliations Hide Affiliations
    1 Department of Developmental Psychology & Socialisation
    2 Department of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, Munich
    3 University of Padova
  • Source: The Mental Lexicon, Volume 12, Issue 2, Jan 2017, p. 263 - 282
  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1075/ml.17009.sch
    • Version of Record published : 15 Mar 2018


Psycholinguistic researchers identify linguistic variables and assess if they affect cognitive processes. One such variable is letter bigram frequency, or the frequency with which a given letter pair co-occurs in an orthography. While early studies reported that bigram frequency affects visual lexical decision, subsequent, well-controlled studies not shown this effect. Still, researchers continue to use it as a control variable in psycholinguistic experiments. We propose two reasons for the persistence of this variable: (1) Reporting no significant effect of bigram frequency cannot provide evidence for no effect. (2) Despite empirical work, theoretical implications of bigram frequency are largely neglected. We perform Bayes Factor analyses to address the first issue. In analyses of existing large-scale databases, we find no effect of bigram frequency in lexical decision in the British Lexicon Project, and some evidence for an inhibitory effect in the English Lexicon Project. We find strong evidence for an effect in reading aloud. This suggests that, for lexical decision, the effect is unstable, and may depend on item characteristics and task demands rather than reflecting cognitive processes underlying visual word recognition. We call for more consideration of theoretical implications of the presence or absence of a bigram frequency effect.


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  • Article Type: Research Article
Keyword(s): null hypothesis; reading; research methods
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