Semantic Priming of Attention Focus: Evidence for Short- and Long-Term Effects


Research on subliminal priming documents that our brain can understand words, interpret facial expressions and decode symbols even without realizing them consciously. Thus, words presented for merely a few ms can shorten the response times to semantically related target words, if compared to words with opposite meaning (e.g., Klauer & Musch, 2003). While most previous semantic priming studies used semantic prime-target pairs of affective valence, the present study explored for the first time semantic priming effects for prime-target pairs characterizing an attentional focus. In Experiment 1, a subliminally presented prime word was followed by an above-threshold target word such that both words denoted a broad attention focus, both denoted a narrow focus, or one word denoted a broad and the other a narrow focus. Subjects had to judge the focus of the target words, and we found their response times to be shorter when the prime-target pairs were semantically congruent rather than incongruent. In Experiment 2, a block of subliminally presented prime words, all denoting a broad or all a narrow focus of attention, was followed by a block of subliminally presented target words denoting a broad or a narrow focus in a mixed sequence. Subjects had to judge the position of each prime or target, and we found their target response times to be shorter when the target was semantically congruent rather than incongruent with the preceding prime block. We concluded that semantic priming is effective, that it works for primes denoting the attention focus, and that it persists for more than just a fraction of a second.

Share and Cite:

Hüttermann, S. , Memmert, D. & Bock, O. (2012). Semantic Priming of Attention Focus: Evidence for Short- and Long-Term Effects. Psychology, 3, 128-131. doi: 10.4236/psych.2012.32019.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.


[1] Bargh, J. D., & Chartrand, T. (2000). The mind in the middle: A practical guide to priming and automaticity research. In H. T. Reis, & C. M. Judd (Eds.), Handbook of research methods in social and personality psychology (pp. 253-285). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
[2] Bargh, J. A., Chen, M., & Burrows, L. (1996). Automaticity of social behavior: Direct effects of trait construct and stereotype activation on action. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 71, 230-244. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.71.2.230
[3] Bueno, S., & Frenck-Mestre, C. (2008). The activation of semantic memory: Effects of prime exposure, prime-target relationship and task demands. Memory & Cognition, 36, 882-898. doi:10.3758/MC.36.4.882
[4] Karremans, J. C., Stroebe, W., & Claus, J. (2006). Beyond Vicary’s fantasies: The impact of subliminal priming and brand choice. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 42, 792-798. doi:10.1016/j.jesp.2005.12.002
[5] Kiesel, A., Kunde, W., & Hoffmann, J. (2007). Mechanisms of subliminal response priming. Advances in Cognitive Psychology, 3, 307-315. doi:10.2478/v10053-008-0032-1
[6] Klauer, K. C., Eder, A. B., Greenwald, A. G., & Abrams, R. L. (2007). Priming of semantic classifications by novel subliminal prime words. Consciousness and Cognition, 16, 63-83. doi:10.1016/j.concog.2005.12.002
[7] Klauer, K. C., & Musch, J. (2003). Affective priming: Findings and theories. In J. Musch, & K. C. Klauer (Eds.), The psychology of evaluation: Affective processes in cognition and emotion (pp. 7-50). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
[8] Klink, R. R. (2009). Gender differences in new brand name response. Marketing Letters, 20, 313-326. doi:10.1007/s11002-008-9066-x
[9] Meyer, D. E., & Schvaneveldt, R. W. (1971). Facilitation in recognizing pairs of words: Evidence of a dependence between retrieval operations. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 90, 227-234. doi:10.1037/h0031564
[10] Naccache, L., Gaillard, R., Adam, C., Hasboun, D., Clémenceau, S., Baulac, M., Dehaene, S., & Cohen, L. (2005). A direct intracranial record of emotions evoked by subliminal words. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 102, 7713-7717. doi:10.1073/pnas.0500542102
[11] Nideffer, R. M. (1976). Test of attentional and interpersonal style. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 34, 394-404. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.34.3.394
[12] Radel, R., Sarrazin, P., & Pelletier, L. G. (2009). Evidence of subliminally primed motivational orientations: The effects of unconscious motivational processes on the performance of a new motor task. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 31, 651-674.
[13] Rossell, S. L., & Nobre, A. C. (2004). Semantic priming of different affective categories. Emotion, 4, 354-363. doi:10.1037/1528-3542.4.4.354
[14] Werheid, K., Alpay, G., Jentzsch, I., & Sommer, W. (2005). Priming the processing of facial affect: Event-related potentials reveal early detection of emotional expression. International Journal of Psychophysiology, 55, 209-219. doi:10.1016/j.ijpsycho.2004.07.006

Copyright © 2020 by authors and Scientific Research Publishing Inc.

Creative Commons License

This work and the related PDF file are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.