Pervasive influence of semantics in letter and category fluency: a multidimensional approach

Brain Lang. 2003 Dec;87(3):400-11. doi: 10.1016/s0093-934x(03)00141-x.


We used multidimensional statistical procedures to study semantic and lexical processes underlying word retrieval in verbal-fluency performance. Forty healthy participants were given a two-choice letter task (i.e., generate items beginning with the letter 'A' or 'F', in any order) and a two-choice category task (i.e., generate animal or fruit names, in any order). Using correspondence analysis (CoA) and hierarchical clustering (HC), we found evidence of prominent semantic organization in both letter and category fluency. For example, a striking categorical segregation between animate and inanimate entities emerged during the letter task. Analysis of inter-item times revealed strong sequential priming effects in both tasks. Taken together, these results indicate that semantic facilitation is pervasive in word retrieval processes, even in the letter-fluency task, and therefore suggest that the traditional view of letter fluency as a purely phonemically based task should be revised. Finally, our findings may help explain patterns of verbal-fluency measures obtained in focal brain lesion patients.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cluster Analysis
  • Cognition*
  • Female
  • Frontal Lobe / physiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Semantics*
  • Verbal Behavior
  • Visual Perception
  • Vocabulary*