Neural interactions at the core of phonological and semantic priming of written words

Cereb Cortex. 2012 Oct;22(10):2305-12. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhr307. Epub 2011 Nov 3.


Word processing is often probed with experiments where a target word is primed by preceding semantically or phonologically related words. Behaviorally, priming results in faster reaction times, interpreted as increased efficiency of cognitive processing. At the neural level, priming reduces the level of neural activation, but the actual neural mechanisms that could account for the increased efficiency have remained unclear. We examined whether enhanced information transfer among functionally relevant brain areas could provide such a mechanism. Neural activity was tracked with magnetoencephalography while subjects read lists of semantically or phonologically related words. Increased priming resulted in reduced cortical activation. In contrast, coherence between brain regions was simultaneously enhanced. Furthermore, while the reduced level of activation was detected in the same area and time window (superior temporal cortex [STC] at 250-650 ms) for both phonological and semantic priming, the spatiospectral connectivity patterns appeared distinct for the 2 processes. Causal interactions further indicated a driving role for the left STC in phonological processing. Our results highlight coherence as a neural mechanism of priming and dissociate semantic and phonological processing via their distinct connectivity profiles.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Humans
  • Language*
  • Magnetoencephalography
  • Male
  • Nerve Net / physiology*
  • Repetition Priming / physiology*
  • Semantics*
  • Speech / physiology*
  • Temporal Lobe / physiology*
  • Writing*