Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Associative Priming in Faces: Semantic Relatedness or Simple Co-Occurrence?

Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Associative Priming in Faces: Semantic Relatedness or Simple Co-Occurrence?

Article excerpt

In two experiments, we explored the effects of co-occurrence and semantic relationships in the associative priming of faces. In Experiment 1, pairs of computer-generated human faces were presented simultaneously (i.e., they co-occurred) with no associated semantic information attached to them. A significant facilitation effect in the subsequent recognition of these paired faces (priming) was observed. Thus, repeatedly presenting faces together while keeping semantic information to a minimum appears to be enough to produce associative priming. In Experiment 2, the computer-generated faces were associated with semantic information and again presented in pairs. Priming effects arising from co-occurrence and semantic relatedness were observed. The results from these experiments show that semantic relatedness is not the sole cause of the association between faces; co-occurrence plays a crucial role too. This conclusion has significant implications for the current computational models of face processing.

Contemporary views of associative face priming have been much influenced by the idea that a certain amount of semantic information must be shared between two associated faces in order to produce a facilitatory recognition effect. Since the first theoretical approaches to face priming (e.g., Bruce & Valentine, 1986; Hay & Young, 1982), parallels have been drawn to similar phenomena reported in the word processing literature. Priming occurs for semantically related words (e.g., bread and butter, knife and fork), it is suggested, because these words have much semantic information in common. According to Collins and Loftus's (1975) semantic network/spreading activation model, familiar concepts are represented as nodes in a semantic network. The node DOG, for example, is linked to other nodes that help define its meaning, such as TAIL, FUR, and MAMMAL. These nodes, however, are also linked to the word CAT. the fact that DOG and CAT prime each other is explained by the fact that they share semantic nodes. Bruce and Valentine, employing the same logic, argued that the face of Prince Charles, for example, facilitates the recognition of Princess Diana's face because they were linked by a number of common semantic features (e.g., they were British, part of the British royal family, and famous).

Although repeated co-occurrence is another possible explanation of the priming effect, Bruce and Valentine (1986) did not explore this suggestion further. Instead, they proposed that the magnitude of the priming effect in known faces is due to the associative strength between the semantic representations of the faces. Their mere co-occurrence in the attentional field of the public was thought to have an influence, but not to be the cause of association. Bruce and Valentine's view became the accepted view in the face processing literature, so that associative priming was referred to as semantic priming and shared semantic information was thought to be the sole cause of association. In almost all published papers in the face priming literature, the same logic was employed to explain their results, thus strengthening the idea that associative priming is semantic in nature. In the present article, we argue that semantic and associative relationships are essentially different. In fact, the two forms of priming are often confounded in the face priming literature. Here, we refer to associative face priming as the form of priming produced by the repeated co-occurrence of stimuli, and to semantic face priming as the form of priming based on a purely semantic relation between the stimuli.

In the word literature, the distinction between associative and semantic priming has been acknowledged and has generated numerous debates. Lupker (1984) argued that "a purely semantic relationship between prime and target can provide very little automatic facilitation in a naming task" (p. 720). Lupker also proposed that semantic relatedness may augment the amount of priming obtained from an associative relationship. …

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