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Negative Priming

In order to function properly, people must attend to certain objects and ignore other objects every second of the day (schizophrenics may have trouble doing this, see below!). For example, when you pick up your coffee cup you must attend to the cup and ignore other objects located near the cup (perhaps a doughnut or some other fattening pastry). When you attend to one object and ignore other objects what are you doing? Does your attention work to facilitate the processing of the attended item (the coffee cup), or does it work to "squash" (inhibit) the processing of the to-be-ignored item (the doughnut)? Recent studies (conducted while drinking coffee and eating doughnuts) suggest that the latter may more accurately describe how attention works. For example, if you are asked to name aloud the letter presented in the center of three letters (e.g. you see "ABA", you say "B") you are slower to respond if you had just ignored the middle letter (e.g. "BDB") compared to if you hadn’t previously ignored the middle letter (e.g. "CDC"). This finding, that responses to an item that had previously been ignored are slower and less accurate than responses to an item which had not previously been ignored, is called negative priming. (Interestingly, schizophrenics get less negative priming than matched controls, presumably because they are not able to ignore the other letters; Beech, Powell, McWilliam, & Claridge, 1989) The cause of this effect has recently been the focus of much debate (May, Kane, & Hasher, 1995; Neill & Valdes, 1996). Currently we are investigating the possible causes of this effect and the various situations in which it occurs.

Some Related Publications

Kahan, T. A., Oldak, V. A., & Lichtman A. S. (2013). Working memory loads affect location-based negative priming differently than inhibition of return. Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 25, 473-492.

Kahan, T. A. (2000). Negative priming from masked words: Retrospective prime-clarification or center-surround inhibition? Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 26, 1392-1410.

Neill, W. T., & Kahan, T. A. (1999). Response conflict reverses priming: A replication. Psychonomic Bulletin and Review, 6 (2), 304-308.