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Cognitive Psychology

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Verbal Priming



The use of a verbal priming technique allows for investigation into the nature of implicit memory.

Implicit memory refers to the unconscious impact that past experiences have on human behavior.

Let's elaborate. If a person regularly sleeps in specific environment, he might feel sleepy if placed in new environment with similar surroundings.

The objects from the sleeping environment prime the individual to respond in a similar manner, even though that person may not remember specific objects in the room.

Through the use of a verbal priming paradigm, this video demonstrates how to design the stimuli and perform the experiment, as well as how to analyze and interpret data investigating implicit memory.

This experiment includes two short phases: an Exposure Phase and a Test Phase. During the Exposure Phase, participants are briefly shown single words from a list, called Prime Words, and asked to identify whether or not the word is found indoors or outdoors.

This first phase is a clever cover task that exposes, or primes, individuals to words that should be unknowingly encoded into memory.

During the second Test Phase, words from the Prime list are intermixed with new words, as well as with words in which the letters have been reordered to produce strings of non-words. Participants are asked to make judgments about whether letter strings are English words or not.

In this experiment, the dependent variable is reaction time, or how much time elapses from the appearance of each word on the screen to when the participant makes an accurate response.

If a priming effect is observed, participants will respond much faster during trials where Prime Words are presented than trials where New Words or Scrambled letters are presented.

Such performance implies faster access to already stored mental representations. In other words, the primed words are encoded into implicit memories compared to novel non-words.

To conduct this study, prepare stimuli by generating a list of 30 common English nouns. Randomly divide these words into three equal groups: Prime Words, New Words, and Words for Scrambling.

From the Words for Scrambling group, create a novel list of 10 non-words by randomly reordering the letters in each word to produce strings that are not English words.

After preparing the word groups, have the participant sit at the computer. Discuss the overall purpose of the study to the participant. Explain to him or her to watch for words centered on the computer screen and respond by making key presses.

During the first Exposure phase, briefly present words from the Prime Words list on the screen for 500 ms. Instruct the participant to press the 'Z' key to indicate that the word is likely to be found indoors or the 'M' key to indicate that the word is likely to be found outdoors.

Immediately after the Exposure phase, initiate the second part, the Test Phase.

In this case, randomly present the Prime Words, New Words, and Scrambled letters intermixed across the 30 trials. Instruct the participant to quickly and accurately press the 'M' key if the letter string during the trial is a word or the 'Z' key if the string is not an English word.

During the Test Phase, record response accuracy and reaction time.

To analyze how priming influenced the participant's performance, average the reaction times for all of the correct responses across the three groups: Prime Words, New Words, and Non-Words.

By graphing the average times by word group, notice that participants responded faster when they were presented with Prime Words compared to New Words, and the slowest when responding to Non-Words.

Now that you are familiar with setting up a verbal priming task, let's take a look at how other researchers use the technique to investigate the neural underpinnings of implicit memory processes.

One of the most famous cases involves patient E.P., who suffered neural damage caused by the herpes encephalitis virus. In this case, the virus entered the brain and caused extensive damage to his medial temporal lobe.

When E.P. was tested on a verbal priming task, he showed faster responses to Prime words, just like control participants.

The finding reinforced the theory that memories can be dissociated into different sub-types. The damage caused anterograde amnesia for declarative memories but left implicit memories intact.

Experimental psychologists employ eye-tracking methodology to monitor how participants evaluate verbal stimuli.

This method integrates findings that longer eye fixation corresponds to longer reaction times, and thus increased processing demands in the brain.

Rodents are often tested in learning and memory tasks that involve visual object recognition, similar to verbal priming.

Researchers examine whether or not prior exposure to stimuli influences subsequent behavior and neural activity. This approach is valuable to understand conditions where priming is compromised, such as after the administration of certain drugs or traumatic events.

You've just watched JoVE's introduction to Verbal Priming. Now you should have a good understanding of how to design and perform the experiment, as well as analyze results and apply the phenomenon.

Thanks for watching!

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