Perceptual priming is a type of item-specific implicit memory that is distinct from explicit memory. Neural signals of the processing responsible for perceptual priming can be difficult to isolate due to concurrent conceptual processing and explicit recognition. We successfully identified neural correlates of perceptual priming by using minimally meaningful, difficult-to-recognize, kaleidoscope images. Human participants were required to quickly indicate the number of colors present in each stimulus, and priming was shown by faster and more accurate visual discriminations for repeated compared with initial presentations. Electroencephalographic responses linked with this differential perceptual fluency were identified as negative potentials 100-300 ms poststimulus onset. Furthermore, different potentials recorded during initial presentations were indicative of perceptual learning, in that their amplitude predicted the magnitude of later priming. These electrophysiological findings show that the degree of perceptual learning engaged upon first encountering a novel visual stimulus predicts the degree of perceptual fluency experienced when the stimulus is processed a second time. It is thus possible to isolate multiple neural processing stages relevant to perceptual priming by using real-time measures of relevant neurophysiological activity in conjunction with experimental circumstances that limit the contaminating influences of other neurocognitive events.
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