Semantic satiation

Semantic satiation is a psychological phenomenon in which repetition causes a word or phrase to temporarily lose meaning for the listener,[1] who then perceives the speech as repeated meaningless sounds. Extended inspection or analysis (staring at the word or phrase for a lengthy period of time) in place of repetition also produces the same effect.[1]

History and research

Leon Jakobovits James coined the phrase "semantic satiation" in his 1962 doctoral dissertation at McGill University.[2] It was demonstrated as a stable phenomenon that is possibly similar to a cognitive form of reactive inhibition.[1] Prior to that, the expression "verbal satiation" had been used along with terms that express the idea of mental fatigue. The dissertation listed many of the names others had used for the phenomenon:

Many other names have been used for what appears to be essentially the same process: inhibition (Herbert, 1824, in Boring, 1950), refractory phase and mental fatigue (Dodge, 1917; 1926a), lapse of meaning (Bassett and Warne, 1919), work decrement (Robinson and Bills, 1926), cortical inhibition (Pavlov, 192?), adaptation (Gibson, 1937), extinction (Hilgard and Marquis, 1940), satiation (Kohler and Wallach, 1940), reactive inhibition (Hull, 1913 [sic]), stimulus satiation (Glanzer, 1953), reminiscence (Eysenck, 1956), verbal satiation (Smith and Raygor, 1956), and verbal transformation (Warren, 1961b).

From Leon Jakobovits James, 1962

James presented several experiments that demonstrated the operation of the semantic satiation effect in various cognitive tasks such as rating words and figures that are presented repeatedly in a short time, verbally repeating words then grouping them into concepts, adding numbers after repeating them out loud, and bilingual translations of words repeated in one of the two languages. In each case, the subjects would repeat a word or number for several seconds, then perform the cognitive task using that word. It was demonstrated that repeating a word prior to its use in a task made the task somewhat more difficult.

An explanation for the phenomenon is that, in the cortex, verbal repetition repeatedly arouses a specific neural pattern that corresponds to the meaning of the word. Rapid repetition makes both the peripheral sensorimotor activity and central neural activation fire repeatedly. This is known to cause reactive inhibition, hence a reduction in the intensity of the activity with each repetition. Jakobovits James (1962) calls this conclusion the beginning of "experimental neurosemantics".

Studies that further explored semantic satiation include the work of Pilotti, Antrobus, and Duff (1997), which claimed that it is possible that the true locus of this phenomenon is presemantic instead of semantic adaptation.[3] There is also the experiment conducted by Kouinos et al. (2000), which revealed that semantic satiation is not necessarily a byproduct of "impoverishment of perceptual inputs."[4]


Jakobovits cited several possible semantic satiation applications and these include its integration in the treatment of phobias through systematic desensitization. He argued that "in principle, semantic satiation as an applied tool ought to work wherever some specifiable cognitive activity mediates some behavior that one wishes to alter."[5] An application has also been developed to reduce speech anxiety by stutterers by creating semantic satiation through repetition, thus reducing the intensity of negative emotions triggered during speech.[6]

There are studies that also linked semantic satiation in education. For instance, the work of Tian and Huber (2010) explored the impact of this phenomenon on word learning and effective reading. The authors claimed that this process can serve as a unique approach to test for discounting through loss of association since it allows the separation of the "lexical level from semantic level effects in a meaning-based task that involves repetitions of words."[7] Semantic satiation has also been used as a tool to gain more understanding on language acquisition such as those studies that investigated the nature of multilingualism.[8]

See also


  1. Das, J.P. (2014). Verbal Conditioning and Behaviour. Oxford: Pergamon Press, Ltd. p. 92. ISBN 9781483156538.
  2. Leon Jakobovits James (April 1962). "Effects of Repeated Stimulation on Cognitive Aspects of Behavior: Some Experiments on the Phenomenon of Semantic Satiation". Retrieved 2018-08-13. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  3. Pilotti, M.; Antrobus, J.S.; Duff, M. (1997). "The effect of presemantic acoustic adaptation on semantic "satiation"". Memory & Cognition. 25 (3): 305–312. doi:10.3758/BF03211286. PMID 9184482.
  4. Shohov, Serge (2003). Advances in Psychology Research, Volume 26. New York: Nova Science Publishers, Inc. p. 69. ISBN 978-1590337981.
  5. Jakobovits, Leon (1966). "Semantic Satiation and Cognitive Dynamics" (PDF). U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved October 19, 2018.
  6. Dr. Leon James (formerly Leon A. Jakobovits) University of Illinois. "Semantic Satiation and Cognitive Dynamics".
  7. Tian, Xing; Huber, David E. (June 2010). "Testing an associative account of semantic satiation". Cognitive Psychology. 60 (4): 267–290. doi:10.1016/j.cogpsych.2010.01.003. ISSN 0010-0285. PMC 2882703. PMID 20156620.
  8. Fishman, Joshua (2014). Advances in the Study of Societal Multilingualism. The Hague: Mouton Publishers. p. 55. ISBN 9783111684376.

Further reading

This article is issued from Wikipedia. The text is licensed under Creative Commons - Attribution - Sharealike. Additional terms may apply for the media files.