Investigating the effects of short-term masked priming on recognition memory

  • Carmen Florentina Ionita

Student thesis: Phd


Recognition memory decisions can be influenced by short-term masked priming. The overarching aim of the thesis was to investigate the effects of short-term repetition and conceptual priming on familiarity and recollection, respectively. Previous research has found that repetition priming of test stimuli (chair – CHAIR) increases familiarity regardless of the study status. Similarly, increasing conceptual fluency of test stimuli through associative priming (table – CHAIR) has been found to increase familiarity for both studied and unstudied stimuli. The convergent explanation for this phenomenon is fluency (mis)attribution to memory, with more fluently processed stimuli being judged as studied or familiar. One branch of the thesis investigated the on/off switching of the fluency attribution to memory system and the neural dynamics underlying it. In two experiments (Chapters 2 and 3) we found that fluency is attributed to prior exposure when study and test modalities match (at least partially). Memory- and priming- sensitive event-related potential (ERP) components were found, but these did not appear to capture the fluency attribution process (i.e., there were no group differences). However, using dynamic causal modelling (DCM), we found that group modulated the connectivity strength between right perirhinal cortex and right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. The second branch of the thesis examined the mechanism underlying conceptual priming effects on recognition memory. Recent studies have reported that non-associative conceptual priming (sofa – CHAIR) increases correct recollection only. Rather than fitting the fluency-attribution-to-memory framework, we propose that these findings are due to encoding context reactivation, conceptual primes acting as retrieval cues for the encoded memory trace of the target word. In a series of experiments, we biased the encoded context of target words and used conceptual primes: (1) related to the target and to the encoded context, (2) related to the target and related to a different context (than the encoded one), and (3) unrelated primes. Conceptual priming effects on recollection were not consistently observed; nonetheless, only primes related to the encoded context increased recollection compared to the other priming conditions, supporting the encoding context reactivation account. In contrast, conceptual primes related to the different context, and sometimes both types of related primes increased familiarity compared to unrelated primes, in line with the fluency attribution account of familiarity. Overall, our findings show distinct mechanisms by which repetition priming and non-associative conceptual priming influence recognition memory judgments.
Date of Award1 Aug 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorDeborah Talmi (Supervisor) & Jason Taylor (Supervisor)


  • recognition memory
  • short-term priming
  • EEG

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