GERNSBACHER, M. A. (1984). Resolving twenty years of inconsistent interactions between lexical familiarity and orthography, concreteness, and polysemy. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 113, 256-281.
Numerous word recognition studies conducted over the past 2 decades are examined. These studies manipulated lexical familiarity by presenting words of high versus low printed frequency and most reported an interaction between printed frequency and one of several second variables, namely, orthographic regularity, semantic concreteness, or polysemy. However, the direction of these interactions was inconsistent from study to study. Six new experiments clarify these discordant results. The first two demonstrate that words of the same low printed frequency are not always equally familiar to subjects. Instead, subjects’ ratings of “experiential familiarity” suggest that many of the low-printed-frequency words used in prior studies varied along this dimension. Four lexical decision experiments reexamine the prior findings by orthogonally manipulating lexical familiarity, as assessed by experimental familiarity ratings, with bigram frequency, semantic concreteness, and number of meanings. The results suggest that of these variables, only experiential familiarity reliably affects word recognition latencies. This in turn suggests that previous inconsistent findings are due to confounding experiential familiarity with a second variable.