Mapping the Structure of Semantic Memory

Ana Sofia Morais, Henrik Olsson, Lael J. Schooler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

72 Scopus citations


Aggregating snippets from the semantic memories of many individuals may not yield a good map of an individual's semantic memory. The authors analyze the structure of semantic networks that they sampled from individuals through a new snowball sampling paradigm during approximately 6weeks of 1-hr daily sessions. The semantic networks of individuals have a small-world structure with short distances between words and high clustering. The distribution of links follows a power law truncated by an exponential cutoff, meaning that most words are poorly connected and a minority of words has a high, although bounded, number of connections. Existing aggregate networks mirror the individual link distributions, and so they are not scale-free, as has been previously assumed; still, there are properties of individual structure that the aggregate networks do not reflect. A simulation of the new sampling process suggests that it can uncover the true structure of an individual's semantic memory.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)125-145
Number of pages21
JournalCognitive Science
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Individual semantic networks
  • Power laws
  • Scale-free
  • Small-worlds
  • Snowball sampling

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Artificial Intelligence


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