Developmental changes in semantic verbal fluency: Analyses of word productivity as a function of time, clustering and switching

P.P.M. Hurks*, D. Schrans, C. Meijs, R. Wassenberg, F.J.M. Feron, J. Jolles

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


We investigated age-related improvement in semantic category verbal fluency (VF) in 309 Dutch schoolchildren attending first to ninth grade. Quantitative analyses of number of correct responses as a function of time as well as qualitative analyses of clustering and switching were conducted. Overall, Dutch VF task performance, i.e., number of correct responses over 60 seconds, was not established before mid-adolescence. This is in line with previously published studies, using VF number of correct responses over 60 seconds as the main outcome measure and examining VF task performance across other cultures and languages (e.g., Italian, French, Hebrew). Next, mean cluster size, a measure of lexico-semantic knowledge, was not established until at least grade 3. In contrast, performance on the VF outcome measures onumber of switches/clusterso was established at least 4 years later. Qualitative and quantitative Design Fluency (DF) outcome measures support the notion that the numbers of switches/clusters are valid measures of higher order cognitive functions, such as strategy use and cognitive flexibility. In line of this, VF number of correct responses during 16-60 seconds, a measure of controlled information processing, is established at least 2 years later (i.e., grades 7-8) than number of correct responses during the first 15 seconds time slide, a measure of automatic processing. Finally, environment, i.e., the level of parental education, primarily affected automatic and lexico-semantic knowledge. No effects of sex on VF performance were found. These data suggest that the alternative scoring methods of VF tasks can be used to acquire knowledge on development of lower and higher order cognitive functions in healthy children and the influence of the environment on it.

Original languageEnglish
Article number920952735
Pages (from-to)366-387
Number of pages22
JournalChild Neuropsychology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2010


  • ADHD
  • Children
  • Controlled and automatic processing
  • Fluency


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