Effects of childhood hearing loss on organization of semantic memory: Typicality and relatedness

Susan Jerger, Markus F. Damian, Nancy Tye-Murray, Meaghan Dougherty, Jyutika Mehta, Melanie Spence

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)


Objective: The purpose of this research was to study how early childhood hearing loss affects development of concepts and categories, aspects of semantic knowledge that allow us to group and make inferences about objects with common properties, such as dogs versus cats. We assessed category typicality and out-of-category relatedness effects. The typicality effect refers to performance advantage (faster reaction times, fewer errors) for objects with a higher number of a category's characteristic properties; the out-of-category relatedness effect refers to performance disadvantage (slower reaction times and more errors) for out-of-category objects that share some properties with category members.

Design: We applied a new children's speeded category-verification task (vote "yes" if the pictured object is clothing). Stimuli were pictures of typical and atypical category objects (e.g., pants, glove) and related and unrelated out-of-category objects (e.g., necklace, soup). Participants were 30 children with hearing impairment (HI) who were considered successful hearing aid users and who attended regular classes (mainstreamed) with some support services. Ages ranged from 5 to 15 yr (mean = 10 yr 8 mo). Results were related to normative data from Jerger and Damian (2005).

Results: Typical objects consistently showed preferential processing (faster reaction times, fewer errors), and related out-of-category objects consistently showed the converse. Overall, results between Ell and normative groups exhibited striking similarity. Variation in speed of classification was influenced primarily by age and age-related competencies, such as vocabulary skill. Audiological status, however, independently influenced performance to a lesser extent, with positive responses becoming faster as degree of hearing loss decreased and negative responses becoming faster as age of identification/amplification/education decreased. There were few errors overall.

Conclusions: The presence of a typicality effect indicates that 1) the structure of conceptual representations for at least one category in the HI group was based on characteristic properties with an uneven distribution among members, and 2) typical objects with a higher number of characteristic properties were more easily accessed and/or retrieved. The presence of a relatedness effect indicates that the structure of representational knowledge in the 111 group allowed them to appreciate semantic properties and understand that properties may be shared between categories. Speculations linked the association 1) between positive responses and degree of hearing loss to an increase in the quality, accessibility, and retrievability of conceptual representations with better hearing; and 2) between negative responses and age of identification/amplification/education to an improvement in effortful, postretrieval decision-making proficiencies with more schooling and amplified auditory experience. This research establishes the value of our new approach to assessing the organization of semantic memory in children with HI.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)686-702
Number of pages17
JournalEar and Hearing
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2006


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