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Department of Cognitive Science and Psychology,

New Bulgarian University, 21 Montevideo Street

Sofia 1618, Bulgaria

Introduction

frequency with which an associate is given to a cue in a

discrete free association task (What is the first word that

comes to your mind in response to the word ROBIN?) by a

group of participants, reflects the association strength in the

mental lexicon of each individual (Nelson, McEvoy, &

Schreiber, 2004). Based on this assumption they use these

group-level production frequencies to control experimental

stimuli or to define experimental condition.

It is also assumed that associates are produced by

spreading activation from the cue to its targets as a function

of their association strength and that the pattern of

association strength is roughly the same for all speakers of a

language. Two questions are warranted: (1) How does the

cognitive system choose a response among the activated

associates, so that it produces a different response each time,

while maintaining the overall frequency pattern? (2) Why

do people produce different associates if they share the same

associative network?

I present a simple model that explains how the same

associative network might give rise to different responses,

whose frequencies approximate the underlying individual

association strengths. The model serves mainly as a proofof-concept that frequencies obtained by group experiments

can be used to infer individual association strength. It does

not, however, aim to be a general model of semantic

memory, nor does it aim to model any other experimental

effects at this time.

the connection weights between them represent their

association strength. If a cue is activated it spreads

activation multiplied by the corresponding connection

weight to all of its associates. Gaussian random error

~ (0, 2 ), which represents random input from the rest of

the system, is added to the input of each associate. The most

active node is selected as a response to the task. Predicted

production frequencies are obtained by running the model N

times and dividing the count of all unique responses by N

and all runs of the model are independent of each other.

The model was evaluated with the root mean square error of

the prediction frequencies,

=1(, , )

=

Since the observed frequencies are interpreted to reflect

connection strengths, then the connection strengths must be

a function of those observed frequencies. The simulations

had two goals: 1) to estimate the connection weight

parameters from observed production frequencies (wi,c =

f(FSG)) and 2) to estimate the noise distribution in a way

that would minimize the residuals of the predicted and the

observed production frequencies.

FSG corpus

Data for the observed FSG was obtained from the

University of South Florida Free Association Norms, a

database of association norms for 5019 cue words (Nelson

et al. 2004). Each cue was presented to a mean of 149 (SD =

15) people, who gave a single response to each of about

100-120 cues. The database is freely accessible at

http://w3.usf.edu/FreeAssociation/

Simulations

Figure 1. The probability of activation of each

associate of the cue ROBIN in simulation 1 (a) with

SD of the noise input 0.28 and in simulation 2 (b) with

SD of the noise input 0.34

Simulations 1 and 2

Simulations 1 and 2 tested which of two functions of the

observed frequencies when used as connection weights and

what dispersion of the noise would lead to a better

different cues for simulation 3 (a) and simulation 4 (b)

hypothesis that the individual connection weights are equal

to the group-level production frequencies. Simulation 2 tests

a model in which the connection strength in the mental

lexicon is a logarithmic function of the observed production

frequencies:

log10 (, 100)

2

Both simulations were run sequentially for 10000 times for

each standard deviations of the noise input for all values

from 0 to 1 with a step of 0.01. Both simulations fitted this

parameter on the same subset of 10 randomly chosen cue

words:

'TOMBSTONE',

'DOZEN',

'FEDERAL',

'REQUEST', 'BODY', 'LIFE', 'ROBBER', 'READ',

'WHISTLE', 'UNIVERSE'.

Results. Simulation 2 provided a much better fit of the

data. Overall, in simulation 1, the RMSE was lowest when

the noise standard deviation was equal to 0.28. In that case

the predicted value of the model differed from the observed

production frequencies by 2.4%, and the predicted value of

the strongest associate by 3.78%.

In simulation 2, when the weight of the connection

between the cue and its associates is set to be equal to a

logarithm of the observable production frequencies, the

production frequencies of the model are closest to the

observable production frequencies when the standard

deviation of the noise input is equal to 0.34. The predicted

frequencies of the model differ from the observed

production frequencies by 0.72%, and the predicted value of

the strongest associate by 1.29%

Figure 1 presents a possible explanation for why the log

transformation is more effective it spreads the activation

distributions of each associate further apart, which makes

them more distinct.

of the strongest associate levels for 4371 different cues

for simulation 3 (a) and simulation 4 (b)

Simulations 3 and 4

Both model 1 and model 2 were run on all standardized

4371 cues with SD of the noise input equal 0.28 and 0.34

respectively.

Results. Model 1 predicted the observed frequencies for

the all 4371 cues with a 2.35% error rate. The model

predicted the frequency of the strongest associate with a

5.24% prediction error. However, model 2 was again an

even better predictor of the data for all 4371 cues 99.15%

overall successful prediction and 97.29% prediction success

for the strongest associate. Also, the variance of the

prediction error for all words (figure 2), and for the first

associate (figure 3) was much smaller for model 2,

compared to model 1, which makes its prediction much

more reliable.

Discussion

This model provides a mechanism that can simulate the

observable production frequencies of associates in a free

association experiment with 0.85% prediction error, when

activation is modeled as the spreading activation through a

network in which the association strength is a logarithmic

function of the observed production frequencies plus a

Gaussian noise with a SD = 0.34. Importantly, this possibly

validates the use of group-level production frequencies to

estimate association strength between words in the

individual lexicon. In this way it validates FSGs use in

creating experimental conditions and its use as a control

variable in psycholinguistics.

References

Nelson, D. L., McEvoy, C. L., & Schreiber, T. A. (2004). The

University of South Florida free association, rhyme, and

word fragment norms. Behavior Research Methods,

Instruments, & Computers, 36(3), 402407.

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