Document Type


Date of Degree

Spring 2019

Access Restrictions

Access restricted until 07/29/2020

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In


First Advisor

McMurray, Bob

First Committee Member

Hazeltine, Eliot

Second Committee Member

Reed, Deborah

Third Committee Member

Wasserman, Edward

Fourth Committee Member

Cook, Susan W


During word learning, many words are associated with many meanings to build a lexicon. A model by McMurray et al. (2012) suggests that vocabulary acquisition may not only depend on building correct associations, but also pruning incorrect ones. Additional evidence for the importance of pruning comes from a word learning analog in pigeons, where the opportunity for pruning incorrect associations between objects and symbols was manipulated during training (Roembke et al., 2016). To investigate pruning in humans, we conducted six supervised word learning experiments. Participants were first trained to link two objects to each word, and subsequently were tested how quickly these were pruned. Across experiments, association strength was measured by using either eye movements to to-be pruned objects, or a post-training accuracy assessment. Learners showed rapid—though potentially not complete—pruning of incorrect associations, but this depended on whether the symbols were auditory words, orthographic words or non-linguistic symbols. Thus, this dissertation provides first evidence that pruning is operative during word learning. We also examined how newly learned words compete against known words for recognition using eye-tracking and found that despite very high accuracy these words were not strong competitors.


Cross-situational word learning, Pruning, Unlearning, Word learning, Word recognition


xvi, 197 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 186-197).


Copyright © 2019 Tanja Charlotte Roembke

Included in

Psychology Commons