Neuroimaging studies of priming

Prog Neurobiol. 2003 May;70(1):53-81. doi: 10.1016/s0301-0082(03)00086-8.


This article reviews functional neuroimaging studies of priming, a behavioural change associated with the repeated processing of a stimulus. Using the haemodynamic techniques of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and positron emission tomography (PET), priming-related effects have been observed in numerous regions of the human brain, with the specific regions depending on the type of stimulus and the manner in which it is processed. The most common finding is a decreased haemodynamic response for primed versus unprimed stimuli, though priming-related response increases have been observed. Attempts have been made to relate these effects to a form of implicit or "unconscious" memory. The priming-related decrease has also been used as a tool to map the brain regions associated with different stages of stimulus-processing, a method claimed to offer superior spatial resolution. This decrease has a potential analogue in the stimulus repetition effects measured with single-cell recording in the non-human primate. The paradigms reviewed include word-stem completion, masked priming, repetition priming of visual objects and semantic priming. An attempt is made to relate the findings within a "component process" framework, and the relationship between behavioural, haemodynamic and neurophysiological data is discussed. Interpretation of the findings is not always clear-cut, however, given potential confounding factors such as explicit memory, and several recommendations are made for future neuroimaging studies of priming.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging*
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping / methods*
  • Evoked Potentials / physiology
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Neurons / diagnostic imaging
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Tomography, Emission-Computed / methods*