Priming is a measure of memory where the influence of studied events is assessed indirectly by a later disguised test (e.g., the effect of studying windmill on the probability of solving the anagram lindwilm). Priming is typically sensitive to the perceptual aspects of studied items (e.g., little priming might be obtained from studying a picture of windmill). This property suggests that priming reflects perceptual operations involved in the identification of words and objects. An investigation of perceptual priming can therefore provide clues about the perception of words and objects.
In five experiments, perceptual priming was assessed in picture identification tasks by varying the perceptual attributes of study and test objects. Experiment 1 investigated the effects of priming on the identification of briefly presented fragmented pictures as a function of receiving the intact pictures, reading the names of pictures, or generating the names at study. Substantial priming was obtained from pictures compared to words, which showed negligible priming in both conditions. Experiment 2 investigated priming on the fragment naming task as a function of receiving the same fragment, an intact picture, or a different fragment of the same object at study. Same fragments showed the greatest priming; less priming was obtained from intact versions or different fragments. In Experiments 3 and 4, priming on the identification of briefly presented pictures was examined when study and test objects were different viewing angles of the same object. Same study-test views showed the greatest priming. Priming across different views was greater when subjects studied an unusual view of the object and were tested on a usual view, compared to when subjects studied a usual view and were tested on the unusual view. Experiment 5 indicated that priming across viewing angles of the object was specific to obtaining pictorial information about the object: no priming was observed when subjects studied the names of the test objects. Together, these data support theories of memory and perception that assume that priming primarily involves perceptual operations that are specific to studied events (such as the fragment or view presented at study) rather than reflecting abstract representations of the studied events.