What is the root cause of word frequency effects on lexical decision times? W. S. Murray and K. I. Forster (2004) argued that such effects are linear in rank frequency, consistent with a serial search model of lexical access. In this article, the authors (a) describe a method of testing models of such effects that takes into account the possibility of parametric overfitting; (b) illustrate the effect of corpus choice on estimates of rank frequency; (c) give derivations of nine functional forms as predictions of models of lexical decision; (d) detail the assessment of these models and the rank model against existing data regarding the functional form of frequency effects; and (e) report further assessments using contextual diversity, a factor confounded with word frequency. The relationship between the occurrence distribution of words and lexical decision latencies to those words does not appear compatible with the rank hypothesis, undermining the case for serial search models of lexical access. Three transformations of contextual diversity based on extensions of instance models do, however, remain as plausible explanations of the effect
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