Semantic priming is affected by real-time phonological competition: evidence for continuous cascading systems

Psychon Bull Rev. 2011 Feb;18(1):141-9. doi: 10.3758/s13423-010-0039-8.


Lexical-semantic access is affected by the phonological structure of the lexicon. What is less clear is whether such effects are the result of continuous activation between lexical form and semantic processing or whether they arise from a more modular system in which the timing of accessing lexical form determines the timing of semantic activation. This study examined this issue using the visual world paradigm by investigating the time course of semantic priming as a function of the number of phonological competitors. Critical trials consisted of high or low density auditory targets (e.g., horse) and a visual display containing a target, a semantically related object (e.g., saddle), and two phonologically and semantically unrelated objects (e.g., chimney, bikini). Results showed greater magnitude of priming for semantically related objects of low than of high density words, and no differences for high and low density word targets in the time course of looks to the word semantically related to the target. This pattern of results is consistent with models of cascading activation, which predict that lexical activation has continuous effects on the level of semantic activation, with no delays in the onset of semantic activation for phonologically competing words.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Association Learning*
  • Attention*
  • Cues*
  • Decision Making
  • Fixation, Ocular
  • Humans
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual*
  • Phonetics*
  • Psycholinguistics
  • Reaction Time
  • Saccades
  • Semantics*
  • Speech Perception*