Effects of stimulus length on reaction times (RTs) in the lexical decision task are the topic of extensive research. While slower RTs are consistently found for longer pseudo-words, a finding coined the word length effect (WLE), some studies found no effects for words, and yet others reported faster RTs for longer words. Moreover, the WLE depends on the orthographic transparency of a language, with larger effects in more transparent orthographies. Here we investigate processes underlying the WLE in lexical decision in German-English bilinguals using a diffusion model (DM) analysis, which we compared to a linear regression approach. In the DM analysis, RT-accuracy distributions are characterized using parameters that reflect latent sub-processes, in particular evidence accumulation and decision-independent perceptual encoding, instead of typical parameters such as mean RT and accuracy. The regression approach showed a decrease in RTs with length for pseudo-words, but no length effect for words. However, DM analysis revealed that the null effect for words resulted from opposing effects of length on perceptual encoding and rate of evidence accumulation. Perceptual encoding times increased with length for words and pseudo-words, whereas the rate of evidence accumulation increased with length for real words but decreased for pseudo-words. A comparison between DM parameters in German and English suggested that orthographic transparency affects perceptual encoding, whereas effects of length on evidence accumulation are likely to reflect contextual information and the increase in available perceptual evidence with length. These opposing effects may account for the inconsistent findings on word length effects
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