Negative priming and perceptual fluency: More than what meets the eye

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In two priming experiments, we manipulated the perceptual quality of the target or the distractor on the prime trial; the stimuli were repeated or novel. Negative priming was found to be contingent on stimulus repetition, because it was obtained with repeated items but not with novel items. Prime trial perceptual degradation modulated negative priming for repeated items but had no effect on priming in ignored repetition conditions using novel stimuli. These patterns were obtained even when the effect of perceptual degradation was (1) greater than the effect of stimulus repetition and (2) greater for novel words than for repeated words. Although stimulus repetition increases perceptual fluency, the activation of perceptual representations by itself is not sufficient to produce negative priming. Instead, we suggest that negative priming is a manifestation of an activation-sensitive inhibitory mechanism that functions to reduce response competition.