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J Exp Psychol Learn Mem Cogn. 2008 Sep;34(5):1246-63. doi: 10.1037/a0012937.

Event-related potentials indicate different processes to mediate categorical and associative priming in person recognition.

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Department of General Psychology, Friedrich Schiller University of Jena, Jena, Germany.


Whether representations of people are stored in associative networks based on co-occurrence or are stored in terms of more abstract semantic categories is a controversial question. In the present study, participants performed fame decisions to unfamiliar or famous target faces (Experiment 1) or names (Experiment 2), which were primed, either by highly associated celebrity names or by names from the same occupational category, or were unprimed. Reaction times and event-related potentials (ERPs) were recorded. Reaction times yielded significant priming effects for both associated and same category conditions. ERPs to targets in the associated condition were significantly more positive than were ERPs in all other conditions over central and parietal areas (300-600 ms; N400 priming effect). By contrast, a more posterior effect was found for categorical priming. These findings held for both cross-domain (Experiment 1) and within-domain conditions (Experiment 2). Results (a) demonstrate behavioral and ERP evidence for categorical priming in person recognition, consistent with the assumption that shared semantic information units can mediate semantic priming, and (b) suggest that associative and categorical priming are based on mechanisms that are at least partially different.

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