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Individual and developmental differences in semantic priming: empirical and computational support for a single-mechanism account of lexical processing.
Existing accounts of single-word semantic priming phenomena incorporate multiple mechanisms, such as spreading activation, expectancy-based processes, and postlexical semantic matching. The authors provide empirical and computational support for a single-mechanism distributed network account. Previous studies have found greater semantic priming for low- than for high-frequency target words as well as inhibition following unrelated primes only at long stimulus-onset asynchronies (SOAs). A series of experiments examined the modulation of these effects by individual differences in age or perceptual ability. Third-grade, 6th-grade, and college students performed a lexical-decision task on high- and low-frequency target words preceded by related, unrelated, and nonword primes. Greater priming for low-frequency targets was exhibited only by participants with high perceptual ability. Moreover, unlike the college students, the children showed no inhibition even at the long SOA. The authors provide an account of these results in terms of the properties of distributed network models and support this account with an explicit computational simulation.