Journal of Psycholinguistic Research

, Volume 48, Issue 1, pp 243–256 | Cite as

Core Semantic Links or Lexical Associations: Assessing the Nature of Responses in Word Association Tasks

  • Leticia VivasEmail author
  • Laura Manoiloff
  • Adolfo M. García
  • Francisco Lizarralde
  • Jorge Vivas


The processes tapped by the widely-used word association (WA) paradigm remain a matter of debate: while some authors consider them as driven by lexical co-occurrences, others emphasize the role of meaning-based connections. To test these contrastive hypotheses, we analyzed responses in a WA task in terms of their normative defining features (those describing the object denoted by the cue word). Results indicate that 72.5% of the responses had medium-to-high coincidence with such defining semantic features. Moreover, 75.51% of responses had medium-to-high values of Relevance (a measure of the importance of the feature for construing a given concept). Furthermore, most responses (62.7%) referred to elements of the situation in which the concept usually appears, followed by sensory properties (e.g., color) of the denoted object (27.86%). These results suggest that the processes behind WA tasks involve a reactivation of the cue item’s semantic properties, particularly those most relevant to its core meaning.


Word association Semantic features Semantic relation Associative relations 



This work was partially supported by the National Scientific and Technical Research Council (CONICET), Science and Technique Secretariat (SECyT) of the National University of Mar del Plata (Grant 15/H209), National Agency of Scientific and Technical Promoting (ANPCYT) (Grant PICT 2015-0983) and Science and Technique Secretariat of the National University Córdoba (Grant Resolution 2254/07 and 3182/07).

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The Authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Psychology Faculty, Institute of Basic and Applied Psychology and TechnologyNational University of Mar del PlataMar del Plata, Buenos AiresArgentina
  2. 2.National Scientific and Technical Research Council (CONICET)Buenos AiresArgentina
  3. 3.Cognitive Psychology of Language and Psycholinguistics Research Group, Laboratory of Cognitive Psychology, CIPSINational University of CórdobaCórdobaArgentina
  4. 4.Laboratory of Experimental Psychology and Neuroscience (LPEN), Institute of Cognitive and Translational Neuroscience (INCYT), INECO FoundationFavaloro UniversityBuenos AiresArgentina
  5. 5.Faculty of EducationNational University of Cuyo (UNCuyo)MendozaArgentina
  6. 6.Faculty of Engineering–Artificial Intelligence Applied to Engineering Research GroupNational University of Mar del PlataMar del Plata, Buenos AiresArgentina

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