Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Influence of Attended Repetition Trials on Negative Priming in Younger and Older Adults

Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Influence of Attended Repetition Trials on Negative Priming in Younger and Older Adults

Article excerpt

A lengthened response time when a distractor becomes a target, called negative priming, is an undisputed phenomenon in selective attention, yet just what the underlying mechanism responsible for negative priming is has not been resolved. In this study, the proportion of attended repetition trials was manipulated in order to test the predictions of three theories that have been proposed for explaining spatial negative priming: distractor suppression (e.g., Tipper, 1985), episodic memory retrieval (e.g., Neill, Valdes, & Terry, 1995), and novelty bias (e.g., Milliken, Tipper, Houghton, & Lupiáñez, 2000). The results supported the proposal that a novelty bias, which is flexible and can be overridden, is the primary mechanism responsible for priming in spatial tasks. Memory retrieval obscured the novelty bias for target processing, was more selective in older adults, and did not affect distractor processing. Novelty bias and distractor suppression may share the same inhibitory attentional mechanism.

Negative priming, the slowed responding to a target that has recently appeared as a distractor, has been a major focus of study in selective attention since Tipper (1985), who presented young adults with overlapping target and distractor line drawings. On prime trials, the target drawing to be named (e.g., a kite) was outlined in red, and the distractor drawing (e.g., a trumpet) was outlined in green. On the subsequent probe trials, the prime distractor (i.e., the trumpet) was outlined in red and required a response. As compared with a control condition, in which the stimuli in the probe were unrelated to those in the prime, the participants were slower to respond to the target in the ignored repetition probe trial. This increase in response time has been referred to as negative priming, and its presence suggests some sort of processing of the prime trial distractor.

Accounts of Negative Priming: Distractor Suppression and Memory Retrieval

One of the first theories proposed to explain negative priming was that of distractor suppression, or inhibition of the distractor in the prime trial (Tipper, 1985). The extra time required to overcome this sustained suppression in the probe trial results in a slowdown in responding. A second theory argues that negative priming results from memory retrieval of the prime distractor during the probe trial (Neill, Valdes, Terry, & Gorfein, 1992; see also Park & Kanwisher, 1994, for a related view). For example, in Tipper's study, repeating the picture of the trumpet (used as the distractor in the prime trial) as the target in the probe trial evoked the memory of the trumpet from the prime trial. However, because the trumpet was the distractor in the prime trial, a conflict between the memory of the previous trial and the current trial ensued. Memory retrieval theory states that negative priming results from the increased time required to resolve this conflict and to make the proper selection in the probe trial.

In a review of the negative priming literature, May, Kane, and Hasher (1995; see Fox, 1995, and Neill, Valdes, & Terry, 1995, for additional reviews) argued that the experimental design may determine whether memory retrieval or distractor suppression is the operative mechanism in any given negative priming task. May et al. suggested that the inclusion of attended repetition trials may induce memory retrieval in both attended and ignored repetition trials. In attended repetition trials, the prime target is presented again as the probe target, and whereas responding is slower and/or less accurate in ignored repetition trials (negative priming), responding is faster and/or more accurate on attended repetition trials (repetition priming), as compared with control trials. This benefit in responding due to repetition of the target is presumed to occur because of the retrieval of the memory of the target from the previous trial.

Negative Priming Research in Older Adults

Negative priming and aging research has been plagued with inconsistent results, with older adults sometimes showing negative priming (e. …

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