Semantic Priming From Crowded Words

Su Ling Yeh, Sheng He, Patrick Cavanagh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

41 Scopus citations


Vision in a cluttered scene is extremely inefficient. This damaging effect of clutter, known as crowding, affects many aspects of visual processing (e.g., reading speed). We examined observers' processing of crowded targets in a lexical decision task, using single-character Chinese words that are compact but carry semantic meaning. Despite being unrecognizable and indistinguishable from matched nonwords, crowded prime words still generated robust semantic-priming effects on lexical decisions for test words presented in isolation. Indeed, the semantic-priming effect of crowded primes was similar to that of uncrowded primes. These findings show that the meanings of words survive crowding even when the identities of the words do not, suggesting that crowding does not prevent semantic activation, a process that may have evolved in the context of a cluttered visual environment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)608-616
Number of pages9
JournalPsychological Science
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2012

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by Taiwan’s National Science Council Grants 96-2413-H-002-009-MY3 and 98-2410-H-002-023-MY3 to S.-L. Y., by a Chaire d’Excellence and National Institutes of Health Grant EY09258 to P. C., and by National Science Foundation Grant BCS-0818588 to S. H.


  • consciousness
  • lexical decision
  • reading
  • subliminal perception
  • visual perception


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