Effects of priming duration on retention over the first 1 1/2 years of life.

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Exposing individuals to an isolated component (a prime) of a prior event alleviates its forgetting. Two experiments with 120 human infants between 3 and 18 months of age determined the minimum duration of a prime that can reactivate a forgotten memory and how long the reactivated memory persists. Infants learned an operant task, forgot it, were exposed to the prime, and later were tested for renewed retention. In Experiment 1, the minimum duration of an effective prime decreased logarithmically with age, but was always longer than the duration of a mere glance. In Experiment 2, the reactivated memory was forgotten twice as fast after a minimum-duration prime as after a full-length one, irrespective of priming delay and infant age. These data reveal that the minimum effective prime duration psychophysically equates the accessibility of forgotten memories. We conclude that priming is perceptually based with effects that are organized on a ratio (log) scale.





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