Memory & Cognition

, Volume 43, Issue 1, pp 99–110 | Cite as

An RT distribution analysis of relatedness proportion effects in lexical decision and semantic categorization reveals different mechanisms

  • Bianca de WitEmail author
  • Sachiko Kinoshita


The magnitude of the semantic priming effect is known to increase as the proportion of related prime–target pairs in an experiment increases. This relatedness proportion (RP) effect was studied in a lexical decision task at a short prime–target stimulus onset asynchrony (240 ms), which is widely assumed to preclude strategic prospective usage of the prime. The analysis of the reaction time (RT) distribution suggested that the observed RP effect reflected a modulation of a retrospective semantic matching process. The pattern of the RP effect on the RT distribution found here is contrasted to that reported in De Wit and Kinoshita’s (2014) semantic categorization study, and it is concluded that the RP effect is driven by different underlying mechanisms in lexical decision and semantic categorization.


Semantic priming Relatedness proportion RT distribution analysis Lexical decision Retrospective semantic matching 



This research was supported by the International Macquarie University Research Excellence Scholarship (2011043) awarded to Bianca de Wit. We thank the reviewers—Jim Neely and two anonymous—who provided valuable comments on an earlier version of the manuscript.

Author note

Bianca de Wit, ARC Centre of Excellence in Cognition and its Disorders (CCD) and Department of Cognitive Science, Macquarie University. Sachiko Kinoshita, ARC Centre of Excellence in Cognition and its Disorders (CCD) and Department of Psychology, Macquarie University.


  1. Antos, S. J. (1979). Processing facilitation in a lexical decision task. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 5, 527–545.Google Scholar
  2. Balota, D. A., & Yap, M. J. (2011). Moving beyond the mean in studies of mental chronometry: The power of response time distributional analyses. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 20, 160–166.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Balota, D. A., Yap, M. J., Cortese, M. J., Hutchison, K. A., Kessler, B., Loftis, B., ... Treiman, R. (2007). The English Lexicon Project. Behavior Research Methods, 39, 445–459.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Balota, D. A., Yap, M. J., Cortese, M. J., & Watson, J. M. (2008). Beyond mean response latency: Response time distributional analysis of semantic priming. Journal of Memory and Language, 59, 495–523.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Becker, C. A. (1980). Semantic context effects in visual word recognition: An analysis of semantic strategies. Memory & Cognition, 8, 493–512.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Blazely, A. M., Coltheart, M., & Casey, B. J. (2005). Semantic impairment with and without surface dyslexia: Implications for models of reading. Cognitive Neuropsychology, 22, 695–717.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bormann, T., & Weiller, C. (2012). “Are there lexicons”? A study of lexical and semantic processing in word-meaning deafness suggests “yes”. Cortex, 48, 294–307.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Brysbaert, M., & New, B. (2009). Moving beyond Kuçera and Francis: A critical evaluation of current word frequency norms and the introduction of a new and improved word frequency measure for American English. Behavior Research Methods, 41, 977–990. doi: 10.3758/brm.41.4.977 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Cousineau, D., Brown, S., & Heathcote, A. (2004). Fitting distributions using maximum likelihood: Methods and packages. Behavior Research Methods, Instruments, & Computers, 36, 742–756.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Davis, C. J. (2010). The spatial coding model of visual word identification. Psychological Review, 117, 713–758.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. De Groot, A. M. B. (1984). Primed lexical decision: Combined effects of the proportion of related prime-target pairs and the stimulus-onset asynchrony of prime and target. The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology Section A, 36, 253–280. doi: 10.1080/14640748408402158 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. De Wit, B., & Kinoshita, S. (2014). Relatedness proportion effects in semantic categorization: Reconsidering the automatic spreading activation process. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition. doi: 10.1037/xlm0000004 Google Scholar
  13. Forster, K. I., & Forster, J. C. (2003). DMDX: A windows display program with millisecond accuracy. Behavior Research Methods, Instruments and Computers, 35, 116–124.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Gomez, P., Perea, M., & Ratcliff, R. (2013). A diffusion model account of masked vs. unmasked priming: Are they qualitatively different? Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance. doi: 10.1037/a0032333 PubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. Grondin, R., Lupker, S. J., & McRae, K. (2009). Shared features dominate semantic richness effects for concrete concepts. Journal of Memory and Language, 60, 1019.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Heathcote, A., Popiel, S. J., & Mewhort, D. J. K. (1991). Analysis of response time distributions: An example using the Stroop task. Psychological Bulletin, 109, 340–347.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Hohle, R. H. (1965). Inferred components of reaction times as functions of foreperiod duration. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 69, 382–386.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Huber, D. E., Shiffrin, R. M., Lyle, K. B., & Ruys, K. I. (2001). Perception and preference in short-term word priming. Psychological Review, 108, 149–182.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Hutchison, K. A. (2007). Attentional control and the relatedness proportion effect in semantic priming. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 33, 645–662.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  20. Hutchison, K. A., Neely, J. H., & Johnson, J. D. (2001). With great expectations, can two “wrongs” prime a “right”? Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 27, 1451–1463.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  21. Hutchison, K. A., Heap, S. J., Neely, J. H., & Thomas, M. A. (2014). Attentional control and asymmetric associative priming. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 40, 844–856. doi: 10.1037/a0035781
  22. Kahan, T. A., Neely, J. H., & Forsythe, W. (1999). Dissociated backward priming effects in lexical decision and pronunciation tasks. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 6, 105–110.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Landauer, T. K., McNamara, D. S., Dennis, S., & Kintsch, W. (2007). Handbook of Latent Semantic Analysis. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
  24. McRae, K., & Boisvert, S. (1998). Automatic semantic similarity priming. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 24, 558–572.Google Scholar
  25. McRae, K., Cree, G., Seidenberg, M., & McNorgan, C. (2005). Semantic feature production norms for a large set of living and nonliving things. Behavior Research Methods, 37, 547–559. doi: 10.3758/bf03192726 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Neely, J. H. (1977). Semantic priming and retrieval from lexical memory: Roles of inhibitionless spreading activation and limited-capacity attention. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 106, 226–254.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Neely, J. H. (1991). Semantic priming effects in visual word recognition: A selective review of current findings and theories. In D. Besner & G. W. Humphreys (Eds.), Basic processes in reading: Visual word recognition (pp. 264–336). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  28. Neely, J. H., & Keefe, D. E. (1989). Semantic context effects on visual word processing: A hybrid prospective/retrospective processing theory. In G. H. Bower (Ed.), The psychology of learning and motivation: Advances in research and theory (Vol. 24, pp. 207–248). New York, NY: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  29. Neely, J. H., Keefe, D. E., & Ross, K. L. (1989). Semantic priming in the lexical decision task: Roles of prospective prime-generated expectancies and retrospective semantic matching. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 15, 1003–1019.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  30. Norris, D. (1984). The mispriming effect: Evidence for an orthographic check in the lexical decision task. Memory & Cognition, 12, 470–476.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Norris, D. (2006). The Bayesian Reader: Explaining word recognition as an optimal Bayesian process. Psychological Review, 113, 327–357.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Norris, D., & Kinoshita, S. (2008). Perception as evidence accumulation and Bayesian inference: Insights from masked priming. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 137, 434–455.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Norris, D., & Kinoshita, S. (2012). Reading through a noisy channel: Why there’s nothing special about the perception of orthography. Psychological Review, 119, 517–545.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. O’Connor, R. E., & Forster, K. I. (1981). Criterion bias and search sequence bias in word recognition. Memory & Cognition, 9, 78–92.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Plaut, D. C. (1997). Structure and function in the lexical system: Insights from distributed models of word reading and lexical decision. Language and Cognitive Processes, 12, 765–805.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Posner, M. I., & Snyder, C. R. R. (1975). Attention and cognitive control. In R. L. Solso (Ed.), Information processing and cognition: The Loyala symposium (pp. 55–85). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.Google Scholar
  37. Pratte, M. S., Rouder, J. N., Morey, R. D., & Feng, C. (2010). Exploring the differences in distributional properties between Stroop and Simon effects using delta plots. Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics, 72, 2013–2025.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Ratcliff, R. (1978). A theory of memory retrieval. Psychological Review, 88, 552–572.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Ratcliff, R., & McKoon, G. (1988). A retrieval theory of priming in memory. Psychological Review, 95, 385–408.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Seidenberg, M. S., Waters, G. S., Sanders, M., & Langer, P. (1984). Pre- and postlexical loci of contextual effects on word recognition. Memory & Cognition, 12, 315–328.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Smith, E. E., Shoben, E. J., & Rips, L. J. (1974). Structure and process in semantic memory: A featural model of semantic decisions. Psychological Review, 81, 214–241.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Thomas, M. A., Neely, J. H., & O’Connor, P. (2012). When word identification gets tough, retrospective processing comes to the rescue. Journal of Memory and Language, 66, 623–643.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Tweedy, J., Lapinski, R., & Schvaneveldt, R. (1977). Semantic-context effects on word recognition: Influence of varying the proportion of items presented in an appropriate context. Memory & Cognition, 5, 84–89. doi: 10.3758/bf03209197 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Yap, M. J., Tse, C.-S., & Balota, D. A. (2009). Individual differences in the joint effects of semantic priming and word frequency revealed by RT distributional analyses: The role of lexical integrity. Journal of Memory and Language, 61, 303–325.PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Yap, M. J., Balota, D. A., & Tan, S. E. (2013). Isolating lexical and decision processes in the lexical decision task. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 39, 140–158.PubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.ARC Centre of Excellence in Cognition and its Disorders (CCD) and Department of Cognitive ScienceMacquarie UniversitySydneyAustralia
  2. 2.ARC Centre of Excellence in Cognition and its Disorders (CCD) and Department of PsychologyMacquarie UniversitySydneyAustralia

Personalised recommendations