Priming the access to names of famous faces

Stefan R. Schweinberger*, A. Mike Burton, Stephen W. Kelly

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)


There is a continuing controversy in models of face identification concerning the level of access to names relative to semantic information. In order to determine whether names are accessed sequentially after or in parallel to semantic information, we studied participants' speeded decisions about famous faces that were primed by partial semantic or partial name information. Decisions that required the access to the celebrity's name (one or more forename syllables, Expt 1) were significantly primed by partial name primes (initials or name fragments). However, at variance with sequential stage models, no reliable priming was observed by partial semantic primes (information about nationality, occupation, or whether a person was dead or alive). Moreover, there was a clear and consistent priming effect by partial semantic primes if the task was a nationality (British or American) decision that required the access to semantic information (Expt 2), demonstrating the effectiveness of these primes. The effects of partial name primes on nationality decisions were less consistent, with a significant effect for name fragments but not initials. However, effects of name primes were generally greater for syllable decisions than nationality decisions, and effects of semantic primes were generally greater for nationality decisions than syllable decisions. Taken together, these results favour a model of parallel rather than sequential access and suggest some degree of independence in the access to personal semantics and names.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)303-317
Number of pages15
JournalBritish Journal of Psychology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - May 2001
Externally publishedYes


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