The persistence of structural priming: transient activation or implicit learning?

J Exp Psychol Gen. 2000 Jun;129(2):177-92. doi: 10.1037//0096-3445.129.2.177.


Structural priming in language production is a tendency to recreate a recently uttered syntactic structure in different words. This tendency can be seen independent of specific lexical items, thematic roles, or word sequences. Two alternative proposals about the mechanism behind structural priming include (a) short-term activation from a memory representation of a priming structure and (b) longer term adaptation within the cognitive mechanisms for creating sentences, as a form of procedural learning. Two experiments evaluated these hypotheses, focusing on the persistence of structural priming. Both experiments yielded priming that endured beyond adjacent sentences, persisting over 2 intervening sentences in Experiment 1 and over 10 in Experiment 2. Although memory may have short-term consequences for some components of this kind of priming, the persisting effects are more compatible with a learning account than a transient memory account.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attention*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Recall*
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual
  • Psycholinguistics
  • Semantics*
  • Students / psychology
  • Verbal Behavior*