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Semantic Priming

After years of practice, most adults are able to read and understand text effortlessly. Yet HOW our brain/mind accomplishes this seemingly simple task remains unclear. Many cognitive psychologists and cognitive scientists are trying to understand this process. It is hoped that if we can understand how people recognize written words then we can use this knowledge to help individuals who have language disorders. One way psychologists study word recognition, and specifically how word recognition is influenced by context, is by examining priming.

To experience priming firsthand have a friend say "silk" 10 times as fast as s/he can. Then ask your friend "What does a cow drink?" If your friend answers "milk", you have just experienced priming. In this example your friend was "primed" to say the wrong answer "milk" in two ways. First, "silk" rhymes with the wrong answer, and second, "cow" is associated with the wrong answer. (Cows drink water, by the way, not milk!)

In what has become the standard priming task, people see pairs of words presented on a computer and are asked to respond to the second word. Priming is the finding that people can respond faster and more accurately to a word if it is preceded by a related or identical word compared to when it preceded by an unrelated word (see Neely, 1991 for a review). Currently we are using this priming paradigm to examine various aspects of word recognition, including bilingual memory representation. Additionally we are using a masked priming procedure to investigate subliminal word identification.

Some Related Publications

Kahan, T. A., Sellinger, J. J., & Broman-Fulks, J. J. (2006). Associative and phonological priming effects following letter search on the prime. American Journal of Psychology, 119, 239-254.

Neely, J. H., & Kahan, T. A. (2001). Is semantic activation automatic? A critical re-evaluation. In H. L. Roediger, J. S. Nairne, & A. M. Surprenant (Eds.), The nature of remembering: Essays in honor of Robert G. Crowder (pp. 69-93). Washington, D. C.: American Psychological Association.

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.

Kahan, T. A., Neely, J. H., & Forsythe, W. J. (1999). Dissociated backward priming effects in lexical decision and pronunciation tasks. Psychonomic Bulletin and Review, 6 (1), 105- 110.

Neely, J. H., VerWys, C. A., & Kahan, T. A. (1998). Reading "GLASSES" primes "VISION" but reading a pair of "GLASSES" does not. Memory and Cognition, 26 (1), 34-39.