August 2012
Volume 12, Issue 9
Vision Sciences Society Annual Meeting Abstract  |   August 2012
Dissociating contextual and semantic priming in object recognition
Author Affiliations
  • Olivia Cheung
    Martinos Center, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School
  • Stephanie Gagnon
    Tufts University, U.S. Army Natick Soldier RDE Center
  • Matthew Panichello
    Martinos Center, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School
  • Moshe Bar
    Martinos Center, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School\nGonda Center for Multidisciplinary Brain Research, Bar Ilan University, Israel
Journal of Vision August 2012, Vol.12, 813. doi:
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      Olivia Cheung, Stephanie Gagnon, Matthew Panichello, Moshe Bar; Dissociating contextual and semantic priming in object recognition. Journal of Vision 2012;12(9):813. doi:

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      © ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)

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Object recognition is thought to draw on associations stored in memory. While the influence of semantic associations (e.g., dog-cat) is widely documented, the importance of contextual associations is not well understood. In fact, contextual associative effects have only been demonstrated with an entire scene as a contextual prime for individual target objects. Here we explore whether individual objects in isolation are sufficient for activating contextual associations that facilitate the recognition of other contextually related objects by dissociating the potential influences of contextual and semantic associations among objects on recognition. In an object priming task, we defined contextually related prime-target pairs as objects that often co-occur in the same environment but do not belong to the same category (e.g., penguin-iceberg), whereas semantically related objects belong to the same basic-level category but do not typically co-occur in the same environment (e.g., penguin-flamingo). We also included conditions with objects related both contextually and semantically (e.g., penguin-seal), unrelated objects (e.g., penguin-bicycle), and objects paired with nonsense objects. Participants (n=24) judged if the target was an actual or nonsense object. Compared with the unrelated baseline, all three related conditions showed significant priming (approximately 30ms faster for related than unrelated objects, p<.05), regardless of the interval between the prime and target objects (100ms-1000ms). The contextual and semantic priming effects were found to be equivalent in strength, which shows that multiple sources of object knowledge influence recognition. Importantly, this is the first demonstration of a robust contextual facilitation triggered by an individual object. This finding supports theories in which recognition is proposed to be a proactive process, whereby our visual system is constantly making predictions and inferences about plausible interpretations based on the objects that have already been recognized.

Meeting abstract presented at VSS 2012


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