Word associations are formed incidentally during sentential semantic integration

Anat Prior, Shlomo Bentin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Sentential context facilitates the incidental formation of word associations (e.g., Prior, A., & Bentin, S. (2003). Incidental formation of episodic associations: the importance of sentential context. Memory and Cognition, 31(2), 306-316). The present study explored the mechanism of this effect. In two experiments, unrelated word pairs were embedded in coherent or semantically anomalous sentences. Anomalous sentences included either a local or a global anomaly. During an incidental study phase, participants performed a sentence categorization task. The strength of the incidental associations formed between two nouns jointly appearing in a sentence was probed by gauging their influence on subsequent paired-associate learning and cued recall in Experiment 1, and by assessing their associative priming effect in a subsequent unexpected explicit recognition test for single words in Experiment 2. In both experiments, significant associative memory was found for noun pairs studied in coherent sentences but not for those appearing in anomalous sentences, regardless of anomaly type. In a sentence rating task, global anomalies yielded less plausible sentences than local anomalies, however both types of anomalies were equally detrimental to the sentence integration process. We suggest that sentence constituents are incidentally associated during sentence processing, particularly as a result of sentence integration and the consolidation of a mental model.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)57-71
Number of pages15
JournalActa Psychologica
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2008
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was funded by the German-Israeli Science Foundation Grant #567, by NICHD Grant 01994 to S. Bentin through Haskins Laboratories, New Haven, Connecticut and by a doctoral research stipend to Anat Prior from the Israeli Foundation Trustees. We thank Ayelet Landau for helpful comments and discussions, and Gadi Leshman and Ella Ben-Tov for skilful research assistance. Requests for reprints should be sent to S. Bentin, Department of Psychology, Hebrew University, Jerusalem, 91905, Israel.


  • Context
  • Incidental learning
  • Semantic
  • Sentence integration
  • Word association

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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