Semantic priming of person recognition: Categorial priming may be a weaker form of the associative priming effect
An interactive activation and competition account (Burton, Bruce, & Johnston, 1990) of the semantic priming effect in person recognition studies relies on the fact that primes and targets (people) have semantic information in common. However, recent investigations into the type of relationship needed to mediate the semantic priming effect have suggested that the prime and target must be close associates (e.g., Barry, Johnston, & Scanlan, 1998; Young, Flude, Hellawell, & Ellis, 1994). A review of these and similar papers suggests the possibility of a small but non-reliable effect based purely on categorial relationships. Experiment 1 provided evidence that when participants were asked to make a name familiarity decision it was possible to boost this small categorial effect when multiple (four) primes were presented prior to the target name. Results from Experiment 2 indicated that the categorial effect was not due to the particular presentation times of the primes. This boosted categorial effect was shown to cross domains (names to faces) in Experiment 3 and persist in Experiment 4 when the task involved naming the target face. The similarity of the pattern of results produced by the associative priming effect and this boosted categorial effect suggests that the two may be due to the same underlying mechanism in semantic memory.