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Semantic priming by words and pictures in lexical decision and pronunciation tasks

Hildur Elisabet Halliday Schilling, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Lexical decision and pronunciation tasks were used to investigate semantic priming, the finding that a word is quicker to recognize when it is preceded by a related than an unrelated stimulus. The first experiment involved a lexical decision task (LDT) in which skilled and less-skilled readers made decisions about letter strings that were preceded by conceptually-related or unrelated stimuli. The effects of time to process the prime and type of prime (word or picture) were examined. Word and picture priming effects were observed at short and long time intervals with skilled and less-skilled groups. Finding word priming was not surprising; there are prior studies that have documented priming by words. However, prior experiments on picture priming have methodological flaws such as multiple presentations of stimuli that make it unclear whether pictures can prime word targets through semantic and nonstrategic routes. The facilitation of word targets following word primes may be due to semantic relations as well as associative relations. While picture priming provides evidence of semantic priming, picture priming cannot be associative at a lexical level because no orthographic features are displayed. During the processing of a picture, information about the picture and its related concepts are activated which facilitates processing of a subsequently presented word. The effect of priming was greater with picture primes than word primes, perhaps because the associations were stronger between the picture-word pairs than the word-word pairs. Because priming in a LDT may be attributed to postlexical checking, priming was further investigated in a pronunciation task in which the strategy is not helpful. In Experiment 2, in which subjects pronounced words that were preceded by related or unrelated pictures, the priming effect was significant. Finding a picture priming effect is important; it supports the interactive view that pictures provide a context that affects the processes that occur before word recognition. Priming must be due to semantic associations between the picture prime and the words corresponding to related concepts. Word and picture priming can be explained by current models of lexical access.

Subject Area

Cognitive therapy

Recommended Citation

Schilling, Hildur Elisabet Halliday, "Semantic priming by words and pictures in lexical decision and pronunciation tasks" (1998). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9909217.