Memory & Cognition

, Volume 7, Issue 5, pp 339–345 | Cite as

Semantic priming effects on picture and word processing

  • Richard D. Sperber
  • Charley McCauley
  • Ronnie D. Ragain
  • Carolyne M. Weil


The effects of semantic priming on picture and word processing were assessed under conditions in which subjects were required simply to identify stimuli (label pictures or read words) as rapidly as possible. Stimuli were presented in pairs (a prime followed by a target), with half of the pairs containing members of the same semantic category and half containing unrelated concepts. Semantic relatedness was found to facilitate the identification of both pictures (Experiment 1) and words (Experiment 2), and obtained interactions of semantic relatedness and stimulus quality in both experiments suggested that semantic priming affects the initial encoding of both types of stimuli. In Experiment 3, subjects received pairs of pictures, pairs of words, and mixed pairs composed of a picture and a word or of a word and a picture. Significant priming effects were obtained on mixed as well as unmixed pairs, supporting the assumption that pictures and words access semantic information from a common semantic store. Of primary interest was the significantly greater priming obtained in picture-picture pairs than in word-word or mixed pairs. This suggests that, in addition to priming that is mediated by the semantic system, priming may occur in picture-picture pairs that results from the overlap in visual features common to the pictorial representations of objects from the same semantic category.


Priming Effect Word Target Trial Block Semantic Relatedness Lexical Decision Task 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. Anderson, J. R. Arguments concerning representations for mental imagery.Psychological Review, 1978,85, 249–277.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Becker, C. A., &Killion, T. H. Interaction of visual and cognitive effects in word recognition.Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 1977,3, 389–401.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Collins, A. M., &Loftus, E. F. A spreading-activation theory of semantic processing.Psychological Review, 1975,82, 407–428.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Dhawan, M., &Pellegrino, J. W. Acoustic and semantic interference effects in words and pictures.Memory & Cognition, 1977,5, 340–346.Google Scholar
  5. Fischler, I. Associative facilitation without expectancy in a lexical decision task.Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 1977,3, 18–26.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Hagen, M. A. An outline of an investigation into the special character of pictures. In H. L. Pick & E. Saltzman (Eds.),Modes of perceiving and processing information. Hillsdale, N.J: Erlbaum, 1978.Google Scholar
  7. Holland, J. D. Features and semantic memory: Set-theoretic or network model?Psychological Review, 1975,82, 154–155.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Meyer, D. E., Schvaneveldt, R. W., &Ruddy, M. G. Loci of contextual effects on visual word-recognition. In P. M. A. Rabbitt & S. Dornic (Eds.),Attention and performance V. New York: Academic Press, 1975.Google Scholar
  9. Morton, J. Interaction of information in word recognition.Psychological Review, 1969,76, 165–178.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Neely, J. H. Semantic priming and retrieval from lexical memory: Evidence for facilitatory and inhibitory processes.Memory & Cognition, 1976,4, 648–654.Google Scholar
  11. Nelly, J. H. Semantic priming and retrieval from lexical memory: Roles of inhibitionless spreading activation and limited-capacity attention.Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 1977,106, 226–254.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Nelson, D., Reed, V., &McEvoy, C. Learning to order pictures and words: A model of sensory and semantic encoding.Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Learning and Memory, 1977,3, 485–497.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Paivio, A. A dual coding approach to perception and cognition. In H. L. Pick & Saltzman (Eds.),Modes of perceiving and processing information. Hillsdale, N.J: Erlbaum, 1978.Google Scholar
  14. Posner, M. I., &Snyder, C. R. R. Attention and cognitive control. In R. L. Solso (Ed.),Information processing and cognition: The Loyola symposium. Hillsdale, N.J: Erlbaum, 1975.Google Scholar
  15. Rosch, E. Cognitive representations of semantic categories.Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 1975,104, 192–233.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Rosch, E., Mervis, C. B., Gray, W. D., Johnson, D. M., &Boyes-Braem, P. Basic objects in natural categories.Cognitive Psychology, 1976,8, 382–439.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Sanford, A. J., Garrod, S., &Boyle, J. M. An independence of mechanism in the origins of reading and classification-related semantic distance effects.Memory & Cognition, 1977,5, 214–220.Google Scholar
  18. Seymour, P. H. K. A model for reading, naming, and comparison.British Journal of Psychology, 1973,64, 35–49.Google Scholar
  19. Seymour, P. H. K. Contemporary models of the cognitive processes: II. Retrieval and comparison operations in permanent memory. In V. Hamilton & M. D. Vernon (Eds.),The development of cognitive processes. New York: Academic Press, 1976.Google Scholar
  20. Shulman, H. G., &Davison, T. C. B. Control properties of semantic coding in a lexical decision task.Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior, 1977,16, 91–98.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 1979

Authors and Affiliations

  • Richard D. Sperber
    • 1
  • Charley McCauley
    • 1
  • Ronnie D. Ragain
    • 1
  • Carolyne M. Weil
    • 1
  1. 1.Vanderbilt UniversityNashville

Personalised recommendations