Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology

Negative Priming for Spatial Location?

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology

Negative Priming for Spatial Location?

Article excerpt

Abstract The term negative priming has been used to describe the deleterious consequences for performance when the current target shares properties with an ignored distractor from the previous trial. Location-based negative priming was first reported by Tipper, Brehaut, and Driver (1990) who used a prime-probe procedure wherein the task was to localize targets defined by their identity (shape). Design imbalances in this seminal study, and others, are illustrated and it is indicated how these might have contaminated the reported effects. The findings, from three experiments using an unbiased design, suggest that negative priming in the spatial location procedure may be more closely related to inhibition of return (foR), or to the automatic attraction of attention by new objects, than to the concepts of distractor inhibition, episodic retrieval, and feature mismatch, which have traditionally been used to explain negative priming for spatial location.

In its most general sense, negative priming is a purely empirically derived concept referring to any negative effect on performance stemming from a previous experience. Since the seminal work of Lowe (1979), Neill (1977), and Tipper (1985), a somewhat narrower construal of this term has dominated the literature. Negative priming in this narrower sense, and as we will use the term here, refers to retarded responding to a target because it shares properties with a distractor from the previous trial (for a review, see Fox, 1995; see Milliken, Joordens, Merikle, & Seiffert, 1998, for a negative priming effect in the more general sense). The proposal that negative priming might reflect cognitive inhibition (Houghton & Tipper, 1994; Klein & Taylor, 1994; Neill, 1977), coupled with the fact that the method for studying its effects involves both memorial and selective processes, has generated numerous studies of negative priming. These studies vary in emphasis from memory to attention and perception, and their participants include children and the aged, as well as individuals suffering from mental disorders like schizophrenia (e.g., Beech, Powell, McWilliam, & Claridge, 1989; Fox, 1994; Hasher, Stoltzfus, Zacks, & Rypma, 1991).

In early studies of negative priming, participants made speeded decisions reporting the identity of a target that had been selected, usually in the presence of a distractor, on the basis of its colour or spatial location. Negative priming was observed as delayed responding when the target had the same identity as the immediately preceding distractor. In an influential paper advocating greater ecological validity, Tipper, Brehaut, and Driver (1990) reversed the task: Participants reported the location of a target that was selected on the basis of its identity. On each trial, a target (O) was presented in one of four locations, with or without a distractor (+), and the task was to press a button corresponding to the target's location. Trials were presented in prime/probe pairs, and the critical pairs involved presenting the probe target in the location that had contained a distractor on the prime trial. Tipper et al. reported impaired performance on these critical trials relative to a control condition, for which the probe's items were presented in new locations. This difference was added to a growing list from other procedures thought to reveal negative priming and came to be referred to as "negative priming for spatial location."

Partly because of its putative ecological validity, partly because of the simplicity of the task for the participant, and partly because of its ease of implementation (particularly in stripped-down form, see later), the procedure in which participants localize a target on the basis of its identity has become widely used to study negative priming. However, an examination of the literature using this procedure reveals that the typical implementation, which uses a restricted set of the possible prime-probe combinations, introduces biases: Properties of the upcoming probe array are not randomly related to the prime layout which, therefore, might serve as an informative pre-cue. …

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