The acronym superiority effect

Sarah Laszlo, Kara D. Federmeier

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The visual world is replete with noisy, continuous, perceptually variant linguistic information, which fluent readers rapidly translate from percept to meaning. What are the properties the language comprehension system uses as cues to initiate lexical/semantic access in response to some, but not all, orthographic strings? In the behavioral, electromagnetic, and neuropsychological literatures, orthographic regularity and familiarity have been identified as critical factors. Here, we present a study in the Reicher-Wheeler tradition that manipulates these two properties independently through the use of four stimulus categories: familiar and orthographically regular words, unfamiliar but regular pseudowords, unfamiliar illegal strings, and familiar but orthographically illegal acronyms. We find that, like letters in words and pseudowords, letters in acronyms enjoy an identification benefit relative to similarly illegal, but unfamiliar strings. This supports theories of visual word recognition in which familiarity, rather than orthographic regularity, plays a critical role in gating processing.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1158-1163
Number of pages6
JournalPsychonomic Bulletin and Review
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2007

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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