Mapping the Structure of Semantic Memory

Cognitive Science 37 (1):125-145 (2013)
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Abstract

Aggregating snippets from the semantic memories of many individuals may not yield a good map of an individual’s semantic memory. The authors analyze the structure of semantic networks that they sampled from individuals through a new snowball sampling paradigm during approximately 6 weeks of 1-hr daily sessions. The semantic networks of individuals have a small-world structure with short distances between words and high clustering. The distribution of links follows a power law truncated by an exponential cutoff, meaning that most words are poorly connected and a minority of words has a high, although bounded, number of connections. Existing aggregate networks mirror the individual link distributions, and so they are not scale-free, as has been previously assumed; still, there are properties of individual structure that the aggregate networks do not reflect. A simulation of the new sampling process suggests that it can uncover the true structure of an individual’s semantic memory

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