Attention constraints of semantic activation during visual word recognition.J Exp Psychol Learn Mem Cogn. 2001 Sep; 27(5):1289-98.JE
The reduction of semantic priming following letter search of the prime suggests that semantic activation can be blocked if attention is allocated to the letter level during word processing. Is this true even for the very fast-acting component of semantic activation? To test this, the authors explored semantic priming of lexical decision at stimulus onset asynchronies (SOAs) of either 200 or 1,000 ms. Following semantic prime processing, priming occurred at both SOAs. In contrast, no priming occurred at the long SOA following letter-level processing. Of greatest interest, at the short SOA there was priming following the less demanding consonant/vowel task but not following the more attention-demanding letter search task. Hence, semantic activation can occur even when attention is directed to the letter level, provided there are sufficient resources to support this activation. The authors conclude that the default setting during word recognition is for fast-acting activation of the semantic system.