The Role of Semantic Clustering in Optimal Memory Foraging

Cognitive Science 39 (8):1925-1939 (2015)
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Recent studies of semantic memory have investigated two theories of optimal search adopted from the animal foraging literature: Lévy flights and marginal value theorem. Each theory makes different simplifying assumptions and addresses different findings in search behaviors. In this study, an experiment is conducted to test whether clustering in semantic memory may play a role in evidence for both theories. Labeled magnets and a whiteboard were used to elicit spatial representations of semantic knowledge about animals. Category recall sequences from a separate experiment were used to trace search paths over the spatial representations of animal knowledge. Results showed that spatial distances between animal names arranged on the whiteboard were correlated with inter-response intervals during category recall, and distributions of both dependent measures approximated inverse power laws associated with Lévy flights. In addition, IRIs were relatively shorter when paths first entered animal clusters, and longer when they exited clusters, which is consistent with marginal value theorem. In conclusion, area-restricted searches over clustered semantic spaces may account for two different patterns of results interpreted as supporting two different theories of optimal memory foraging



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