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Semantic-to-autobiographical memory priming is ubiquitous

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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.

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  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.


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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



Cell Phone






Video Tape



Medicine Bottle






Credit card










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)

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Mace, J.H., Ostermeier, K.L. & Zhu, J. Semantic-to-autobiographical memory priming is ubiquitous. Mem Cogn 51, 1729–1744 (2023).

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