The development of semantic cognition
: Effects of typicality on semantically-driven tasks in children aged five to ten

  • Katrina Daw

Student thesis: Master's ThesisMaster of Science (MSc)


This study investigated experiential and controlled cognition accounts of conceptual knowledge development in a sample of 107 children aged five to ten. Four semantically-driven tasks: naming, item matching, sorting and category matching explored varying typicality of a common set of items, whilst controlling for familiarity. A further object-use task explored matching of a probe to a functionally-related target from amongst semantically-related distractors. Variable performance on tasks using the same items implicated task demands, not just variation in vocabulary knowledge. Naming accuracy showed a graded typicality advantage. Partial support was found for recruitment of controlled cognition in the remaining tasks. For example, in item matching, alongside proximal distractors, there was a greater cost to accuracy for more typical probes. For sorting, accuracy was more variable when categories were more specific, indicating a requirement for more controlled cognition. Matching by specific sortal improved with greater distinctiveness of the most and least typical items for all ages, despite their familiarity. For category and object matching, proximal distractors impeded performance, due to a greater requirement for controlled cognition. Contrary to item matching, the effects of proximal distractors on category matching were greater for less typical items where category membership was less direct, suggesting a role for controlled cognition. The findings further suggest a tentative conclusion that younger children (60-78 months) were less able to recruit controlled cognition. When sorting, these children benefited from a specific sortal term, where the relationship between the item and the category is more proximal than for general sorting, offsetting the requirement for controlled cognition. Older children were also better at matching by category and function; tasks with greater control requirements due to more distant relations between probe and target. The findings are discussed in relation to the controlled semantic cognition (CSC) framework (Rogers, Patterson, Jefferies & Lambon Ralph, 2015).
Date of Award19 Mar 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Bristol
SupervisorJosie Briscoe (Supervisor)


  • semantic control
  • typicality
  • children

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