Original Research

Phonemic verbal fluency in non-WEIRD populations: Demographic differences in performance in the Controlled Oral Word Association Test-FAS

Aline Ferreira-Correia, Hillary Banjo, Nicky Israel
African Journal of Psychological Assessment | Vol 6 | a152 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/ajopa.v6i0.152 | © 2024 Aline Ferreira-Correia, Hillary Banjo, Nicky Israel | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 23 November 2023 | Published: 24 May 2024

About the author(s)

Aline Ferreira-Correia, Department of Psychology, Faculty of Humanities, School of Human and Community Development, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa
Hillary Banjo, Department of Psychology, Faculty of Humanities, School of Human and Community Development, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa
Nicky Israel, Department of Psychology, Faculty of Humanities, School of Human and Community Development, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa

Abstract

This study aimed to investigate whether age, level of education, gender, number of spoken languages, and the self-reported position of language within this multilingual experience predicted performance on the Controlled Oral Word Association Test (COWAT-FAS). Using a cross-sectional research design, the phonemic verbal fluency of a sample (n = 156) of healthy adults (ages 18–60 years) with different linguistic and educational backgrounds from a non-WEIRD (western, educated, industrialised, rich and democratic) context was assessed using the COWAT-FAS (including the F, A, S, total correct, repetition, incorrect, and total errors). Pearson’s correlations showed significant negative associations between age and most of the COWAT scores, including the total (r = –0.47; p < 0.01) and significant positive associations between years of education and all of the COWAT scores, including the total (r = 0.49; p < 0.01). The number of languages spoken was not significantly correlated with any of the COWAT scores, but multilinguals who identified English as a first language performed significantly better than those who identified English as a secondary language for several COWAT scores, including the total (t154 = 3.85; p < 0.001; d = 0.79). Age (B = –0.32; p < 0.001), years of education (B = 0.35; p < 0.001), and language position (B = –0.20; p < 0.01) also significantly predicted the COWAT total score (r2 = 0.38; F = 18.34; p < 0.001; f2 = 0.61). The implications of these findings for use of the COWAT-FAS in multilingual and non-WEIRD contexts are discussed.

Contribution: This article supports the importance of understanding the role demographic variables play in cognitive performance and how they represent a source of bias in cognitive testing, particularly in the COWAT-FAS. It highlights how age, level of education, and the correspondence, or lack thereof, between first language and language of assessment, impacts phonemic fluency tasks. This knowledge may help to manage biases when conducting verbal fluency assessments with multilingual individuals and in non-WEIRD contexts.


Keywords

COWAT; verbal fluency; multilingualism; cognition; assessment

Sustainable Development Goal

Goal 10: Reduced inequalities

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