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Contextual priming of word meanings is stabilized over sleep

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DateAccepted/In press - 6 Sep 2018
DateE-pub ahead of print - 15 Sep 2018
DatePublished (current) - 1 Jan 2019
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)109-126
Early online date15/09/18
Original languageEnglish


Evidence is growing for the involvement of consolidation processes in the learning and retention of language, largely based on instances of new linguistic components (e.g., new words). Here, we assessed whether consolidation effects extend to the semantic processing of highly familiar words. The experiments were based on the word-meaning priming paradigm in which a homophone is encountered in a context that biases interpretation towards the subordinate meaning. The homophone is subsequently used in a word-association test to determine whether the priming encounter facilitates the retrieval of the primed meaning. In Experiment 1 (N = 74), we tested the resilience of priming over periods of 2 and 12 hours that were spent awake or asleep, and found that sleep periods were associated with stronger subsequent priming effects. In Experiment 2 (N = 55) we tested whether the sleep benefit could be explained in terms of a lack of retroactive interference by testing participants 24 hours after priming. Participants who had the priming encounter in the evening showed stronger priming effects after 24 hours than participants primed in the morning, suggesting that sleep makes priming resistant to interference during the following day awake. The results suggest that consolidation effects can be found even for highly familiar linguistic materials. We interpret these findings in terms of a contextual binding account in which all language perception provides a learning opportunity, with sleep and consolidation contributing to the updating of our expectations, ready for the next day.

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© 2018 The Authors.

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