A close call: interference from semantic neighbourhood density and similarity in language production

Nora Fieder*, Isabell Wartenburger, Rasha Abdel Rahman

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    21 Citations (Scopus)


    The present study investigated how lexical selection is influenced by the number of semantically related representations (semantic neighbourhood density) and their similarity (semantic distance) to the target in a speeded picture-naming task. Semantic neighbourhood density and similarity as continuous variables were used to assess lexical selection for which competitive and noncompetitive mechanisms have been proposed. Previous studies found mixed effects of semantic neighbourhood variables, leaving this issue unresolved. Here, we demonstrate interference of semantic neighbourhood similarity with less accurate naming responses and a higher likelihood of producing semantic errors and omissions over accurate responses for words with semantically more similar (closer) neighbours. No main effect of semantic neighbourhood density and no interaction between semantic neighbourhood density and similarity was found. We assessed further whether semantic neighbourhood density can affect naming performance if semantic neighbours exceed a certain degree of semantic similarity. Semantic similarity between the target and each neighbour was used to split semantic neighbourhood density into two different density variables: The number of semantically close neighbours versus distant neighbours. The results showed a significant effect of close, but not of distant, semantic neighbourhood density: Naming pictures of targets with more close semantic neighbours led to longer naming latencies, less accurate responses, and a higher likelihood for the production of semantic errors and omissions over accurate responses. The results show that word inherent semantic attributes such as semantic neighbourhood similarity and the number of coactivated close semantic neighbours modulate lexical selection supporting theories of competitive lexical processing.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)145-168
    Number of pages24
    JournalMemory and Cognition
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - Jan 2019


    • language production
    • semantic processing
    • lexical selection
    • semantic neighbours


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