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PLoS One. 2011;6(10):e24209. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0024209. Epub 2011 Oct 11.

A paradox of syntactic priming: why response tendencies show priming for passives, and response latencies show priming for actives.

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Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, Nijmegen, The Netherlands.


Speakers tend to repeat syntactic structures across sentences, a phenomenon called syntactic priming. Although it has been suggested that repeating syntactic structures should result in speeded responses, previous research has focused on effects in response tendencies. We investigated syntactic priming effects simultaneously in response tendencies and response latencies for active and passive transitive sentences in a picture description task. In Experiment 1, there were priming effects in response tendencies for passives and in response latencies for actives. However, when participants' pre-existing preference for actives was altered in Experiment 2, syntactic priming occurred for both actives and passives in response tendencies as well as in response latencies. This is the first investigation of the effects of structure frequency on both response tendencies and latencies in syntactic priming. We discuss the implications of these data for current theories of syntactic processing.

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