Document Type


Publication Date



College of Education and Human Services


Communication Sciences and Disorders


Purpose: The contextual interference effect is a motor learning phenomenon where conditions that decrease overall learning during practice enhance overall learning with new tasks. In the limb literature, this effect is observed when different practice conditions are used (e.g., blocked vs. random practice schedules). In speech motor learning, contextual interference effects are mixed. The differences observed during speech motor learning may be due to the stimuli used. We hypothesized that dissimilar phonemes might create interference during speech motor learning, such that training accuracy would decrease. However, generalization accuracy would increase compared to practice with nonwords containing similar phonemes.

Method: Thirty young adults with typical speech and hearing participated in a motor learning study using a cross-over design. Participants engaged in nonword repetition training followed by an immediate retention and transfer task with two sets of nonwords: nonwords with similar phonemes and nonwords with dissimilar phonemes. Percent consonants correct were calculated to examine the effects of the two different types of nonwords based on the stage of skill acquisition.

Results: A contextual interference effect was observed in this study using nonwords that varied in phonemic similarity. Nonwords with similar phonemes were produced with greater accuracy during the training stage of skill acquisition, and nonwords with dissimilar phonemes were produced with greater accuracy during the transfer stage.

Conclusion: The proposed hypothesis for this study was met – practicing nonwords with dissimilar phonemes resulted in greater accuracy in the transfer phase of this experiment. Results indicate that phonemic dissimilarity produced contextual interference and influenced speech motor learning. These results indicate that the linguistic properties of stimuli must be factored into speech motor learning. Future research should explore if other linguistic variables interact with variables of motor learning to enhance speech practice and generalization outcomes.

Source Citation

Meigh KM and Kee E (2020) Dissimilar Phonemes Create a Contextual Interference Effect During a Nonword Repetition Task. Front. Psychol. 11:585745. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2020.585745


© 2020 Meigh and Kee. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

This article received support from the WVU Libraries' Open Access Author Fund.



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