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Mem Cognit. 1996 May;24(3):271-84.

Priming, analogy, and awareness in complex reasoning.

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  • 1Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA.


The mechanisms by which a concept used in solving one complex task can influence performance on another complex task were investigated. We tested the hypothesis that even when subjects do not spontaneously make an analogy between two domains, knowledge of one domain can still spontaneously influence reasoning about the other domain via the mechanism of priming. Four groups of subjects (two experimental and two control) were given a simulated biochemistry problem on Day 1 and a simulated molecular genetics problem on Day 2. For the two experimental groups, the solution to the biochemistry problem involved inhibition. For the two control groups, the solution did not involve inhibition. On Day 2, all subjects received the same version of the molecular genetics problem in which the solution involved the concept of inhibition. Subjects in the experimental conditions were more likely to attain the correct answer, to propose inhibition, and to propose inhibition early in the problem-solving session than were subjects in the control conditions. However, subjects in the experimental conditions made no reference to the biochemistry problem either in their verbal protocols or in a post-task questionnaire. The results are interpreted as demonstrating that an implicit process--priming--can make old knowledge available for current problem solving.

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