This is the 2007 version. Click here for the 2017 chapter 06 table of contents.


A technique called priming can demonstrate implicit memory. A person who sees the word yellow will be slightly faster to recognize the word banana as a word. This happens because the words yellow and banana are closely associated in memory.

What is "priming"? What is a "semantic network"?

Researchers sometimes envision a network of word meanings or semantic network somewhat like the diagram. The distance between words indicates the frequency with which the words are associated in everyday life. Because of these associations, activating one node of the network (showing the person one word) warms up or primes nearby words, speeding retrieval. This effect lasts about 30 minutes after exposure to the priming word.

Are priming effects implicit or explicit? Why?

A semantic network

Priming does not require conscious rehearsal of word meanings. The associations between words used in a priming experiment are not consciously memorized for purposes of the experiment; they are naturally occurring associations. (However, they are learned, and they can be culture-specific. Not every society has yellow school busses, for example.) No conscious strategy is required to show priming effects. Brain-damaged and intoxicated people show the same priming effects as other people. This is another example of implicit memory. Indeed, the example used on the preceding page, about implicit vs. explicit memory, was also a form of priming. It involved degraded words, shown as a cue to recall words a person saw earlier in the experiment. In that case, the experimenters were interested in seeing whether the priming effect (showing the words earlier) would occur equally in drunk and sober subjects, which it did.

How does priming normally help language comprehension?

In normal reading, words seen ahead of the fixation point of the eye (in peripheral vision) are activated in semantic memory ("warmed up") so when the eye fixates upon them, their meanings are available faster. Similarly, in conversation, if you hear somebody say, "I ate a yellow" [followed by a muffled word that sounds like "an-an-an"] you might well hear "I ate a yellow banana" because you have a semantic network like the one in the diagram. The word banana is activated by its association to the word yellow, so you easily retrieve it even if the stimulus is partial or degraded. The memory retrieval is automatic, evoked by the situation, so this is an example of implicit memory.

Write to Dr. Dewey at

Don't see what you need? Psych Web has over 1,000 pages, so it may be elsewhere on the site. Do a site-specific Google search using the box below.

Custom Search

Copyright © 2007-2011 Russ Dewey