Skip to main content
Log in

Semantic-to-autobiographical memory priming is ubiquitous

Memory & Cognition Aims and scope Submit manuscript

Abstract

It is now well established that the activation of semantic memories leads to the activation of autobiographical memories. Studies have shown that semantic processing of words or pictures primes autobiographical memories on voluntary and involuntary autobiographical memory tasks (the Crovitz cue-word task and the vigilance task). Known as semantic-to-autobiographical memory priming, our goal in the current study was to demonstrate the ubiquitous nature of this form of priming by showing that a wide variety of stimuli will prime involuntary autobiographical memories on the vigilance task. In Experiment 1, semantic-to-autobiographical priming was obtained on the vigilance task following the processing of sounds (e.g., the sound of bowling) and spoken words (e.g., the word bowling). In Experiment 2, semantic-to-autobiographical priming was observed on the vigilance task following tactile processing (e.g., the objects ball, glasses) and visual word processing (e.g., the words ball, glasses). In Experiment 3, semantic-to-autobiographical priming was observed on the vigilance task following the processing of videos (e.g., videos of a marching parade) and visual word processing (e.g., the word parade). The results of these experiments support the idea that semantic-to-autobiographical activations occur across a wide variety of stimuli (e.g., linguistic, perceptual). The results also further support the idea that semantic-to-autobiographical memory priming may play an important role in the production of involuntary memories in everyday life. Additional implications (for priming theory and autobiographical memory functions) are discussed.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this article

Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.

Instant access to the full article PDF.

Institutional subscriptions

Notes

  1. The vigilance task elicits involuntary autobiographical memories by presenting participants with slides containing horizontal or vertical lines with embedded verbal cues. The embedded cues have been shown to occasionally elicit spontaneous memories and thoughts throughout the task (e.g., Schlagman & Kvavilashvili, 2008).

  2. Mace et al. (2019) also demonstrated that generic priming can influence memory content on a voluntary autobiographical memory task (Experiments 1 and 3).

  3. The cue type data were extracted from the SuperLab data file for each participant. These files indicated which slides were stopped by participants. Independent judges classified the cues by merely checking which predetermined cue categories stopped slides belonged to.

  4. As in Experiment 1, the cue data were extracted from the SuperLab data file for each participant.

  5. As in Experiments 1 and 2, the cue data were extracted from the SuperLab data file for each participant.

References

  • Anderson, J. R. (1983). A spreading activation theory of memory. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior, 22, 261–295.

    Google Scholar 

  • Baars, B. J. (1988). A cognitive theory of consciousness. Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Ball, C. T. (2007). Can we elicit involuntary autobiographical memories in the laboratory? In J. H. Mace (Ed.), Involuntary memory (pp. 127–152). Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.

  • Ball, C. T., Mace, J. H., & Corona, H. (2007). Cues to the gusts of memory. In J. H. Mace (Ed.), Involuntary memory (pp. 113–126). Blackwell Publishing.

    Google Scholar 

  • Barsalou, L. W. (1999). Perceptual symbols systems. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 22, 577–660.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Barsalou, L. W. (2008). Grounded cognition. Annual Review of Psychology, 59, 617–645.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Barzykowski, K., Niedźwieńska, A., & Mazzoni, G. (2019a). How intention to retrieve a memory and expectation that it will happen influence retrieval of autobiographical memories. Consciousness and Cognition, 72, 31–48.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Barzykowski, K., Radel, R., Niedzwienska, A., & Kvavilashvili, L. (2019b). Why are we not flooded by involuntary thoughts about the past and future? Testing the cognitive inhibition dependency hypothesis. Psychological Research, 83, 666–683.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Barzykowski, K., & Staugaard, S. R. (2016). Does retrieval intentionality really matter? Similarities and differences between involuntary memories and directly and generatively retrieved voluntary memories. British Journal of Psychology, 107, 519–536.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Berntsen, D. (2009). Involuntary autobiographical memories: An introduction to the unbidden past. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Berntsen, D. (1996). Involuntary autobiographical memory. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 10, 435–454.

    Google Scholar 

  • Berntsen, D., & Hall, N. M. (2004). The episodic nature of involuntary autobiographical memories. Memory & Cognition, 32, 789–803.

    Google Scholar 

  • Berntsen, D., Staugaard, S. R., & Sørensen, L. M. T. (2013). Why am I remembering this now? Predicting the occurrence of involuntary (spontaneous) episodic memories. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 142, 426–444.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Blaxton, T. A. (1989). Investigating dissociations among memory measures: Support for a transfer-appropriate processing framework. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 15, 657–668.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bower, G. H. (1981). Mood and memory. American Psychologist, 36, 129–148.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Box, G. E. P., & Cox, D. R. (1964). An analysis of transformations. Journal of the Royal Statistical Society, Series B, 26, 211–252.

    Google Scholar 

  • Coane, J. H., & Balota, D. A. (2009). Priming the holiday spirit: Persistent activation due to extra-experimental experiences. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 16, 1124–1128.

    Google Scholar 

  • Chu, S., & Downes, J. J. (2000). Long live Proust: The odour-cued autobiographical memory bump. Cognition, 75, 41–50.

    Google Scholar 

  • Chu, S., & Downes, J. J. (2002). Proust nose best: Odors are better cues of autobiographical memory. Memory & Cognition, 30, 511–518.

    Google Scholar 

  • Collins, A. M., & Loftus, E. F. (1975). A spreading-activation theory of semantic processing. Psychological Review, 82, 407–428.

    Google Scholar 

  • Conway, M. A. (1990). Associations between autobiographical memories and concepts. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 16, 799–812.

    Google Scholar 

  • Conway, M. A. (2001). Sensory-perceptual episodic memory and its context: Autobiographical memory. In A. Baddeley, J. P. Aggleton, & M. A. Conway (Eds.), Episodic memory: New directions in research (pp. 53–70). Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Conway, M. A. (2005). Memory and the self. Journal of Memory and Language, 53, 594–628.

    Google Scholar 

  • Dienes, Z. (2021). How to use and report Bayesian hypothesis tests. Psychology of Consciousness: Theory, Research, and Practice, 8, 9–26.

    Google Scholar 

  • Fox, J., & Weisberg, S. (2019). An R companion to applied regression (3rd ed.).

    Google Scholar 

  • Greenberg, D. L., & Verfaellie, M. (2010). Interdependence of episodic and semantic memory: Evidence from neuropsychology. Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society, 16, 748–753.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  • Hawkins, D., & Weisberg, S. (2017). Combining the Box-Cox power and generalized log transformations to accommodate nonpositive responses in linear and mixed-effects linear models. South African Statistics Journal, 51, 317–328.

    Google Scholar 

  • Keysers, C., Gazzola, V., & Wagenmakers, E. J. (2020). Using Bayes factor hypothesis testing in neuroscience to establish evidence of absence. Nature Neuroscience, 23, 788–799.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  • Kihlstrom, J. F. (1987). The cognitive unconscious. Science, 237, 1445–1452.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Kvavilashvili, L., & Mandler, G. (2004). Out of one’s mind: A study of involuntary semantic memories. Cognitive Psychology, 48, 47–94.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Lee, M. D., & Wagenmakers, E. J. (2013). Bayesian modeling for cognitive science: A practical course. Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Mace, J. H. (2004). Involuntary autobiographical memories are highly dependent on abstract cuing: The Proustian view is incorrect. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 18, 893–899.

    Google Scholar 

  • Mace, J. H. (2005). Priming involuntary autobiographical memories. Memory, 13, 874–884.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Mace, J.H. (Ed.) (2007). Involuntary memory. Malden, MA: Blackwell publishing.

  • Mace, J. H. (2010). Understanding autobiographical remembering from a spreading activation perspective. In J. H. Mace (Ed.), The act of remembering: Toward an understanding of how we recall the past (pp. 43–55). Wiley-Blackwell.

    Google Scholar 

  • Mace, J. H., & Atkinson, E. (2009). Can we determine the functions of everyday involuntary autobiographical memories? In M. Kelly (Ed.), Applied memory. Nova Science Publishers.

    Google Scholar 

  • Mace, J. H., Bernas, R. S., & Clevinger, A. M. (2015). Individual differences in recognizing involuntary autobiographical memories: Impact on the reporting of abstract cues. Memory, 23, 445–452.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Mace, J. H., & Hidalgo, A. M. (2022). Semantic-to-autobiographical memory priming affects involuntary autobiographical memory production after a long delay. Consciousness and Cognition, 104, 103385.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Mace, J. H., & Kruchten, E. A. (2023). Semantic-to-autobiographical memory priming causes involuntary autobiographical memory production: The effects of single and multiple prime presentations. Memory & Cognition, 51, 115–128.

    Google Scholar 

  • Mace, J. H., McQueen, H., Staley, B. A., & Welch, T. J. (2019). Semantic memories prime autobiographical memories: Implications for everyday autobiographical remembering. Memory & Cognition, 47, 299–312.

    Google Scholar 

  • Mace, J. H., & Petersen, E. P. (2020). Priming autobiographical memories: How recalling the past may affect everyday forms of autobiographical remembering. Consciousness and Cognition, 85, 103018.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Mace, J. H., & Unlu, M. (2020). Semantic-to-autobiographical memory priming occurs across multiple sources: Implications for autobiographical remembering. Memory & Cognition, 48, 931–941.

    Google Scholar 

  • Mazzoni, G., Vannucci, M., & Batool, I. (2014). Manipulating cues in involuntary autobiographical memory: Verbal cues are more effective than pictorial cues. Memory & Cognition, 42, 1076–1085.

  • McNamara, T. P. (2005). Semantic priming: Perspectives from memory and word recognition. Psychology Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Oberauer, K., & Eichenberger, S. (2013). Visual working memory declines when more features must be remembered for each object. Memory & Cognition, 41, 1212–1227.

    Google Scholar 

  • Rasmussen, A. S., & Berntsen, D. (2009). The possible functions of involuntary autobiographical memories. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 23, 1137–1152.

    Google Scholar 

  • Reber, A. S. (1993). Implicit knowledge and tacit knowledge: An essay on the cognitive unconscious. Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Renoult, L., Davidson, P. S. R., Palombo, D. J., Moscovitch, M., & Levine, B. (2012). Personal semantics: At the crossroads of semantic and episodic memory. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 16, 550–558.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Roediger, H. L., III, & McDermott, K. (1993). Implicit memory in normal human participants. In F. Boller & J. Grafman (Eds.), Handbook of neuropsychology (Vol. 8, pp. 63–131). Elsevier Science.

    Google Scholar 

  • Rouder, J. N., Morey, R. D., Speckman, P. L., & Province, J. M. (2012). Default Bayes factors for ANOVA designs. Journal of Mathematical Psychology, 56, 356–374.

    Google Scholar 

  • Rubin, D. C. (2022). A conceptual space for episodic and semantic memory. Memory & Cognition, 50, 464–477.

    Google Scholar 

  • Schank, R. C. (1999). Dynamic memory revisited. Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Schlagman, S., & Kvavilashvili, L. (2008). Involuntary autobiographical memories in and outside the laboratory: How different are they from voluntary autobiographical memories? Memory & Cognition, 36, 920–932.

    Google Scholar 

  • Schlagman, S., Kvavilashvili, L., & Schulz, J. (2007). Effects of age on involuntary autobiographical memories. In J. H. Mace (Ed.), Involuntary memory (pp. 87–112). Blackwell Publishing.

    Google Scholar 

  • Sheldon, S., & Donahue, J. (2017). More than a feeling: Emotional cues impact the access and experience of autobiographical memories. Memory & Cognition, 45, 731–744.

    Google Scholar 

  • Sheldon, S., Peters, S., & Renoult, L. (2020). Altering access to autobiographical episodes with prior semantic knowledge. Consciousness and Cognition, 86, 1–16.

    Google Scholar 

  • Tulving, E., & Thomson, D. M. (1973). Encoding specificity and retrieval processes in episodic memory. Psychological Review, 80, 352–373.

    Google Scholar 

  • Tulving, E., Schacter, D. L., & Stark, H. A. (1982). Priming effect in word-fragment completion are independent of recognition memory. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 8, 336–342.

    Google Scholar 

  • Vannucci, M., Pelagatti, C., Hanczakowski, M., Mazzoni, G., & Paccani, C. R. (2015). Why are we not flooded by involuntary autobiographical memories? Few cues are more effective than many. Psychological Research, 79, 1077–1085.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Weldon, M. S. (1991). Mechanisms underlying priming on perceptual tests. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 17, 526–541.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to John H. Mace.

Additional information

Publisher’s note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Appendices

Appendix A

Words and sounds (in parentheses) used in the sound and auditory-word priming groups

Dog (barking dog)

Cell Phone (phone ringing)

Cat (cat meowing)

Car (car engine starting)

Airplane (airplane taking off)

Ballpark (crack of bat and cheering)

Train (train horn and train moving on tracks)

Television (news intro music)

Band (band instruments playing)

Bowling (bowling ball hitting pins)

Fireworks (squeal and pop of fireworks)

Cooking (oil cracking in frying pan)

Storm (thunder and rain)

Singing (people singing)

Laughing (a child laughing)

Ocean (waves crashing and seagull sounds)

Children (children talking and giggling)

Guitar (electric guitar playing)

Alarm clock (beeping alarm clock)

Basketball (ball bouncing and fans cheering)

Lawnmower (pull of chain and sound mower engine)

Baby (baby fussing and crying)

Horse (horse neighing)

Wedding (organ playing the wedding march)

Snoring (a person snoring)

Bus (air brake release and coins entering fare box)

Skateboard (skateboard wheels moving on pavement)

Swimming (swimming and splashing sounds)

Restaurant (dishes clanking and groups of people talking)

Bumble Bee (a bee buzzing)

Appendix B

Words and objects used in the tactile and word priming groups

Ball

Glasses

Cell Phone

Remote

Bottle

Cup

Pen

Book

Video Tape

Key

Mask

Medicine Bottle

Backpack

Ring

Earbuds

Notebook

Coin

Credit card

Comb

Ruler

Glove

Watch

Hat

Sneaker

Button

Toothbrush

Sunglasses

Appendix C

Words and videos (actions/scenes in parentheses) used in the video and word priming groups

School (teacher talking to her class)

Parade (band marching in a parade)

Art (putting paint on a canvas)

Doctor (a patient getting a physical)

Pet (dogs playing)

Clothing (person trying on outfits)

City (scanning city buildings overhead)

Cat (cat walking)

Reading (person reading a book)

Hiking (person on hiking trail)

Movie (people at the movie theatre)

Sports (people playing different sports)

Car (car driving down a road)

Garden (person working in a garden)

Mountain (scanning the tops of mountains)

Beach (waves coming onto the sand)

Bike (person riding a bike)

Swimming (person swimming)

Running (people in a race)

Lake (moving scenes of a lake)

Zoo (animals at the zoo)

Bowling (person bowling)

Storm (rain and wind)

Singing (children singing)

Winter (scene of snow falling)

Woods (person walking in the woods)

Cooking (people cooking)

Sledding (people sledding)

Boat (boats moving in the water)

Shopping (person shopping for groceries)

Graduation (students receiving diplomas)

Haircut (child getting a haircut)

Traffic (cars in traffic jam)

New Year (counting clock and ball drop in Times Square NYC)

Fishing (a child reeling in a fish)

Sailing (people on a sailboat)

Ocean (scenes of waves crashing)

Baseball (scenes of a baseball field)

Basketball (playing basketball)

Vacuuming (child vacuuming)

Rights and permissions

Springer Nature or its licensor (e.g. a society or other partner) holds exclusive rights to this article under a publishing agreement with the author(s) or other rightsholder(s); author self-archiving of the accepted manuscript version of this article is solely governed by the terms of such publishing agreement and applicable law.

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Mace, J.H., Ostermeier, K.L. & Zhu, J. Semantic-to-autobiographical memory priming is ubiquitous. Mem Cogn 51, 1729–1744 (2023). https://doi.org/10.3758/s13421-023-01430-6

Download citation

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.3758/s13421-023-01430-6

Keywords

Navigation