Changes in the nature of word association responses as a function of grade 9868686*level of stimulus word introduction : A cross-sectional and longitudinal approach



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The present study was designed to investigate the changes which occur in the associative responses of children. The literature review revealed that changes occurred in the number of meaningful responses, in the ratio of syntactic to paradigmatic responses, and in the prevalence of various idiodynamic sets. This study was undertaken to clarify the changes which others had found, and to study the influence of grade level of formal introduction of the stimulus words. A combined longitudinal-cross-sectional approach was employed in order to trace associative changes of individual children and to compare the performance of children at the various grade levels. The stimulus words were obtained from the school readers of grades kindergarten through 6th. It was hypothesized that as the children increased in age and grade level, three changes would occur: (1) the number of meaningful responses would increase, (2) the prevalent responses would shift from syntactic to paradigmatic in nature, and (3) the preferred idiodynamic sets would change. It was further hypothesized that the predicted changes would be related to the grade level of introduction of the stimulus words in school. Children from grades kindergarten through 5th served as subjects. The same list of nouns, verbs, and adjectives was presented at six-month intervals, spanning three school years. Data from all four testings were available for children originally tested in kindergarten, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grades; and complete cross-sectional data were available for each testing. The responses were scored for meaningfulness, syntactic versus paradigmatic, and idiodynamic set, and the scores were tallied for stimulus words at each difficulty level as well as for the total list. The results generally confirmed the experimental hypotheses. The percentages of meaningful responses increased across grade level, but within each grade level the influence of word introduction was reflected in the tendency for meaningful responses to decrease as the words became more difficult. The shift from syntactic to paradigmatic responding occurred during the 2nd grade. In the fall of the school year the easier words on the list already were eliciting paradigmatic responses, but syntactic responses were given more frequently to the more difficult words. In the spring of the 2nd grade, however, words at all difficulty levels elicited more paradigmatics than syntactics. The prevalent idiodynamic set changed from functional noun-verb in kindergarten to contrast-logical coordinate in the 2nd grade. Again, the influence of word introduction was evident in this shift. The grouped data, both longitudinal and cross-sectional, indicated that the introduction of words per se and, more importantly, the method by which they were introduced largely determined the type of response the words would elicit. Individual data, on the other hand, indicated that some fall kindergarteners responded in a manner similar to 2nd grade children. It was concluded that a child entering school already has established a basic mode of operation, and this mode is reflected in the associative responses given on a word association test. If his basic response mode leads him to respond with syntactic and functional responses, introduction of words in kindergarten and first grade in terms of pictures, examples, etc. agrees with his mode of operation and no change occurs until approximately the 2nd grade when words are introduced in terms of the concepts of contrast, equivalence, and hierarchical categorization. If, on the other hand, his basic mode of operation leads him to respond paradigmatically and with synonyms, superordinates, and contrasts, his reading training in kindergarten and 1st grade creates a set to respond in a syntactic or functional manner. In both cases, the introduction of words interacts with his basic mode of operation to determine what type of responses he will give.



Children, Languages, Association of ideas