An attention account of neural priming
Repetition priming of familiar stimuli (e.g., objects) produces a decrease in visual cortical activity for repeated versus novel items, which has been attributed to more fluent processing for repeated items. By contrast, priming of unfamiliar stimuli (e.g., abstract shapes) produces an increase in visual cortical activity. The mechanism for priming-related increases in activity for repeated unfamiliar stimuli is unknown. We hypothesised that such increases in activity may reflect attentional allocation to these items. We tested this hypothesis using a priming-spatial attention paradigm. During Phase 1 of Experiment 1, participants viewed unfamiliar abstract shapes and familiar objects. During Phase 2, participants identified target letters (S or H). Each target letter was preceded by a non-informative shape or object cue that was repeated (from Phase 1) or novel in the same (valid) or opposite (invalid) hemifield. In Experiment 2, we manipulated shape familiarity by presenting shapes once or six times during Phase 1. For both experiments, at valid locations, target identification accuracy was higher following repeated versus novel unfamiliar item cues and lower following repeated versus novel familiar item cues. These findings support our hypothesis that priming-related increases in visual cortical activity for repeated unfamiliar items may, in part, reflect attentional allocation.
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