Electrophysiology reveals semantic priming at a short SOA irrespective of depth of prime processing.Neurosci Lett. 2009 Apr 03; 453(2):107-11.NL
The otherwise robust behavioral semantic priming effect is reduced to the point of being absent when a letter search has to be performed on the prime word. As a result the automaticity of semantic activation has been called into question. It is unclear, however, in how far automatic processes are even measurable in the letter search priming paradigm as the prime task necessitates a long prime-probe stimulus-onset asynchrony (SOA). In a modified procedure, a short SOA can be realized by delaying the prime task response until after participants have made a lexical decision on the probe. While the absence of lexical decision priming has already been demonstrated in this design it seems premature to draw any definite conclusions from this purely behavioral result since event related potential (ERP) measures have been shown to be a more sensitive index of semantic activation. Using the modified paradigm we thus recorded ERP in addition to lexical decision times. Stimuli were presented at two different SOAs (240 ms vs. 840 ms) and participants performed either a grammatical discrimination (Experiment 1) or a letter search (Experiment 2) on the prime. Irrespective of prime task, the modulation of the N400, the ERP correlate of semantic activation, provided clear-cut evidence of semantic processing at the short SOA. Implications for theories of semantic activation as well as the constraints of the delayed prime task procedure are discussed.