Where perception meets memory: a review of repetition priming in visual search tasks

Atten Percept Psychophys. 2010 Jan;72(1):5-18. doi: 10.3758/APP.72.1.5.


What we have recently seen and attended to strongly influences how we subsequently allocate visual attention. A clear example is how repeated presentation of an object's features or location in visual search tasks facilitates subsequent detection or identification of that item, a phenomenon known as priming. Here, we review a large body of results from priming studies that suggest that a short-term implicit memory system guides our attention to recently viewed items. The nature of this memory system and the processing level at which visual priming occurs are still debated. Priming might be due to activity modulations of low-level areas coding simple stimulus characteristics or to higher level episodic memory representations of whole objects or visual scenes. Indeed, recent evidence indicates that only minor changes to the stimuli used in priming studies may alter the processing level at which priming occurs. We also review recent behavioral, neuropsychological, and neurophysiological evidence that indicates that the priming patterns are reflected in activity modulations at multiple sites along the visual pathways. We furthermore suggest that studies of priming in visual search may potentially shed important light on the nature of cortical visual representations. Our conclusion is that priming occurs at many different levels of the perceptual hierarchy, reflecting activity modulations ranging from lower to higher levels, depending on the stimulus, task, and context-in fact, the neural loci that are involved in the analysis of the stimuli for which priming effects are seen.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Attention
  • Brain / physiology
  • Humans
  • Memory*
  • Signal Detection, Psychological
  • Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation / methods
  • Visual Perception*