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Psychol Sci. 2004 Mar;15(3):164-70.

Cherry pit primes Brad Pitt: Homophone priming effects on young and older adults' production of proper names.

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  • 1Psychology Department, Pomona College, Claremont, CA 91711, USA.


This study investigated why proper names are difficult to retrieve, especially for older adults. On intermixed trials, young and older adults produced a word for a definition or a proper name for a picture of a famous person. Prior production of a homophone (e.g., pit) as the response on a definition trial increased correct naming and reduced tip-of-the-tongue experiences for a proper name (e.g., Pitt) on a picture-naming trial. Among participants with no awareness of the homophone manipulation, older but not young adults showed these homophone priming effects. With a procedure that reduced awareness effects (Experiment 2), prior production of a homophone improved correct naming only for older adults, but speeded naming latency for both age groups. We suggest that representations of proper names are susceptible to weak connections that cause deficits in the transmission of excitation, impairing retrieval especially in older adults. We conclude that homophone production strengthens phonological connections, increasing the transmission of excitation.

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