Exploring word memorability: How well do different word properties explain item free-recall probability?
Words can vary in many dimensions and a variety of lexical, semantic, and affective properties have previously been associated with variability in recall performance. Free recall data was used from 147 participants across 20 experimental sessions from the Penn Electrophysiology of Encoding and Retrieval Study (PEERS) dataset, across 1638 words. Here I consider how well 20 different word properties—across lexical, semantic, and affective dimensions—relate to free recall. Semantic dimensions, particularly animacy (better memory for living), usefulness (with respect to survival; better memory for useful), and size (better memory for larger), demonstrated the strongest relationships with recall probability. These key results were then examined and replicated in the free recall data from Lau et al. (2018), which had 532 words and 116 participants. This comprehensive investigation of a variety of word memorability demonstrates that semantic and function-related psycholinguistic properties play an important role in verbal memory processes.