In Exemplar Theory, the mental lexical representation of a word is a distribution over memories of past experiences with that word. These memories are rich with phonetic and indexical detail. At the very core of the theory, then, is the prediction that individual words should have a unique phonetic distribution shaped by the environments in which they were most encountered. We pursue this hypothesis directly by exploring the prediction that a word should be more easily processed when it contains characteristics that most resemble the listener's accumulated past experience with that word. Twenty-five participants took part in an auditory lexical decision task where they heard words that are usually said more by older speakers, words usually said more by younger speakers, and age-neutral words. These words were presented in both an older and a younger voice. Accuracy rates increased and response times decreased when voice age and word age matched. This provides robust evidence that words are more easily processed when they contain characteristics that most resemble the listener's accumulated past experience with that word, providing verification of a key prediction of exemplar models of the lexicon.
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