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Implicit Semantic Priming in Spanish-Speaking Children and Adults: An Auditory Lexical Decision Task

  • Dolors Girbau (a1) and Richard G. Schwartz (a2)


Although receptive priming has long been used as a way to examine lexical access in adults, few studies have applied this method to children and rarely in an auditory modality. We compared auditory associative priming in children and adults. A testing battery and a Lexical Decision (LD) task was administered to 42 adults and 27 children (8;1–10;11 years-old) from Spain. They listened to Spanish word pairs (semantically related/unrelated word pairs and word-pseudoword pairs), and tone pairs. Then participants pressed one key for word pairs, and another for pairs with a word and a pseudoword. They also had to press the two keys alternatively for tone pairs as a basic auditory control. Both groups of participants, children and adults, exhibited semantic priming, with significantly faster Reaction Times (RTs) to semantically related word pairs than to unrelated pairs and to the two word-pseudoword sets. The priming effect was twice as large in the adults compared to children, and the children (not the adults) were significantly slower in their response to word-pseudoword pairs than to the unrelated word pairs. Moreover, accuracy was somewhat higher in adults than children for each word pair type, but especially in the word-pseudoword pairs. As expected, children were significantly slower than adults in the RTs for all stimulus types, and their RTs decreased significantly from 8 to 10 years of age and they also decreased in relation to some of their language abilities development (e.g., relative clauses comprehension). In both age groups, the Reaction Time average for tone pairs was lower than for speech pairs, but only all adults obtained 100% accuracy (which was slightly lower in children). Auditory processing and semantic networks are still developing in 8-10 year old children.

Si bien el “priming” receptivo ha sido ampliamente utilizado como una vía de análisis del acceso léxico en adultos, pocos estudios han aplicado dicho método a la infancia y raramente en la modalidad auditiva. La presente investigación comparó el “priming” asociativo auditivo en población infantil y adulta. Se administró una batería de tests y una tarea de Decisión Léxica a 42 adultos y 27 niños/as (8;1–10;11 años) de España. Dichos participantes escucharon pares de palabras en español (pares de palabras semánticamente relacionadas/no relacionadas y pares de palabra-pseudopalabra), y pares de tonos. A continuación, los participantes pulsaron una tecla para los pares de palabras, y otra para los pares de palabra–pseudopalabra. También tenían que pulsar las dos teclas alternativamente para pares de tonos, como un control auditivo básico. Ambos grupos de participantes, infantil y adulto, mostraron activación semántica, con Tiempos de Reacción (TR) significativamente más rápidos ante los pares de palabras semánticamente relacionadas que ante las palabras no relacionadas y ante las dos series de palabra-pseudopalabra. El efecto facilitador fue el doble en el grupo de adultos respecto al infantil, y dicho grupo infantil (no el adulto) fue significativamente más lento en su respuesta a los pares de palabra-pseudopalabra que a los pares de palabras no relacionadas. Además, la precisión fue algo más alta en el grupo adulto que en el infantil para cada tipo de pares de palabras, pero especialmente en los pares de palabra-pseudopalabra. Como se esperaba, el grupo infantil fue significativamente más lento que el adulto en los TRs para todos los tipos de estímulo, y sus TR disminuyeron significativamente desde los 8 a los 10 años de edad y asimismo disminuyeron en relación con el desarrollo de algunas de sus capacidades lingüísticas (p. ej., comprensión de oraciones relativas). En ambos grupos de edad (infantil y adulto), el tiempo de reacción promedio para los pares de tonos fue menor que para los pares de ítems verbales, pero sólo todos los adultos obtuvieron 100% de precisión (la cual fue ligeramente inferior en el grupo infantil). El procesamiento auditivo y las redes semánticas se están aun desarrollando en los/as niños/as de 8 a 10 años de edad.


Corresponding author

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Dolors Girbau. Departamento de Psicología Básica. Universidad Jaume I. Campus Riu Sec. 12071 Castellón. (Spain). E-mail:


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The Spanish Journal of Psychology
  • ISSN: 1138-7416
  • EISSN: 1988-2904
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