The Onset and Time Course of Semantic Priming During Rapid Recognition of Visual Words

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In 2 experiments, we assessed the effects of response latency and task-induced goals on the onset and time course of semantic priming during rapid processing of visual words as revealed by ocular response tasks. In Experiment 1 (ocular lexical decision task), participants performed a lexical decision task using eye movement responses on a sequence of 4 words. In Experiment 2, the same words were encoded for an episodic recognition memory task that did not require a metalinguistic judgment. For both tasks, survival analyses showed that the earliest observable effect (divergence point [DP]) of semantic priming on target-word reading times occurred at approximately 260 ms, and ex-Gaussian distribution fits revealed that the magnitude of the priming effect increased as a function of response time. Together, these distributional effects of semantic priming suggest that the influence of the prime increases when target processing is more effortful. This effect does not require that the task include a metalinguistic judgment; manipulation of the task goals across experiments affected the overall response speed but not the location of the DP or the overall distributional pattern of the priming effect. These results are more readily explained as the result of a retrospective, rather than a prospective, priming mechanism and are consistent with compound-cue models of semantic priming.

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