Date of Award


Document Type

Honors Thesis (Colby Access Only)


Colby College. Psychology Dept.


Jen Coane


The frequency of words to which people are exposed fluctuates over the course of a year, yet there is little research as to how these varying stimuli affect our cognitive abilities. Using the intense media coverage of the 2012 presidential election, this study investigated the effect of word frequency in the external environment (i.e. outside the lab) on word recognition and recall in a Lexical Decision Task. Participants identified pseudohomophonic nonwords and three types of words (political, pop culture, or unrelated) as either words or nonwords; afterwards they were told to recall as many words as possible. Because the words in each list were matched on all characteristics, any differences in reaction time or recall between the lists could be attributed to external factors. Although there was no difference in reaction times for the different word lists, recall for political cues was significantly higher than the recall for the other cues in November. The increase in recall for the political cues was due to a greater exposure to these words from the media coverage of the election. Participants tested in February had a significantly lower recall for political cues than the November group, indicating that stimuli in our external environment can affect our cognitive abilities.


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Priming, Lexical Decision Task, Contextual Factors, Election 2012

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