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Structural Comparison of Cognitive Associative Networks in Two Populations1


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    The authors thank Wei Sun for help with data preparation and Susan L. Ames, Roger A. Drake, and Jerry Grenard for their helpful comments on an earlier version of the manuscript. This research was supported by grants from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (DA16094) and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (AA12128).

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Kathryn A. Coronges, Department of Preventive Medicine, Keck School of Medicine, USC 1000 S. Fremont Avenue, Unit 8, Alhambra CA 91803. E-mail:


The cognitive associative structure of 2 populations was studied using network analysis of free-word associations. Structural differences in the associative networks were compared using measures of network centralization, size, density, clustering, and path length. These measures are closely aligned with cognitive theories describing the organization of knowledge and retrieval of concepts from memory. Size and centralization of semantic structures were larger for college students than for 7th graders, while density, clustering, and mean path length were similar. Findings presented reveal that subpopulations might have very different cognitive associative networks. This study suggests that graph theory and network analysis methods are useful in mapping differences in associative structures across groups.