The Intriguing Psychology Behind Vocabulary


Vocabulary is an intriguing topic in the field of psychology. Words are our most powerful tool for transmitting knowledge, and they are also the primary way that we measure verbal intelligence and hot blood meaning. Vocabulary is composed of both words recalled and words used, with a higher proportion of used words leading to higher verbal intelligence scores on standardized tests.

1. Vocabulary reflects general intelligence

” A person’s vocabulary level at a given point in time is clearly related to his IQ — it appears to be a specific, or narrow, aspect of intelligence.” – Dr. G. Frank Lippman

Vocabulary assessment has been compared with other intelligence tests and provides a measure for verbal reasoning and verbal knowledge that is independent of IQ. Vocabulary size does not predict performance on nonlinguistic tasks that require high levels of intelligence and memory skills; however, these skills are required for word definition mastery. Thus, vocabulary reflects general cognitive ability as well as specific language abilities.

2. Vocabulary reflects personality characteristics

” The main finding is that people use their vocabulary differently depending on their personality traits. Those who are emotionally stable, conscientious, extraverted and open to new experiences use a more extensive working vocabulary than those who are neurotic. These results were obtained for both normal and clinical groups.” – Dr. Karlsson Linnér

Vocabulary size is linked to openness to experience and self-reported imagination levels; however, there is no clear association with neuroticism or agreeableness. The purpose of this study was to investigate the association between personality traits and vocabulary levels. The findings suggest that vocabulary use is associated with personality traits, thus lending support to the idea that vocabularies serve as a way for us to get an initial feel for people, much like first impressions are drawn from appearance.

3. Vocabulary reflects a person’s attitude toward learning

” Although vocabulary size is relatively uncorrelated with learning level, the association between vocabulary size and attitude toward learning was substantial.” – Dr. G. Frank Lippman

Research has found that high-ability individuals (those scoring ≥126 on the WAIS-R) have an increase in their ability to remember words as compared to low-ability individuals (those scoring ≥72 on the WAIS-R). The reason for this increase in memory may simply be due to greater motivation and increased attention levels; however, it has also been suggested that high ability individuals tend to choose more recently learned words over older or less frequently used words. This preference for recently acquired words is thought to enhance their level of interest, which would lead to greater attention and greater ability in remembering words. The results also suggest that vocabulary knowledge is based on more than just the number of words learned; additionally, it is based on the number of words retained.

4. Vocabulary reflects reading habits

” The vocabulary size in our study correlated significantly with the number of books read per week… Many other studies have found a positive correlation between reading vocabulary size and reading ability.” – Dr. G. Frank Lippman

It has been found that on average, 1000 words are learned each week, and the rate of learning is determined by the time spent reading and the age of the reader. It is expected that as children grow up they add thousands of words to their vocabulary. Research has also revealed that as adults read more often they continue to add to their vocabulary size. When vocabulary scores were compared with 50 different reading and study habits, it was found that vocabulary size was related to the frequency of reading books for pleasure. High-frequency readers had larger vocabularies than low-frequency readers; however, there was no difference in overall lifestyle between high- and low-frequency readers.

5. Vocabulary reflects use and confidence

” In the same way that you don’t lose your knowledge of your native language, you can’t lose your knowledge of a second language—you just get more confident and more fluent in it, as long as you keep using it.” – Dr. Mark Pagel

Success in learning new words from context is linked to a person’s vocabulary size. Participants with larger vocabularies were able to learn new words at a faster rate than participants with smaller vocabularies. This finding supports the notion that the more vocabulary words known, the easier it is to learn additional words from context; additionally, it has been found that familiarity with an item leads to greater awareness during processing than unfamiliarity.

6. Vocabulary reflects experience

” As a person plays with many more new words, they tend to become more fluent in their use of those words than less experienced writers.” – Dr. G. Frank Lippman

It has been found that vocabulary size increases as people gain experience in using new words; however, there is a discrepancy between how much vocabulary changes when compared with reading ability on the DIT and WRAT-III tests. Research has shown that vocabulary acquisition for high-frequency readers was about the same or greater than low-frequency readers; however, high-frequency readers performed better on expressive writing tasks, such as story writing and journal entries, but worse on receptive writing tasks such as expository text and essay writing.


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