Semantic Person Memory

We all have a vast amount of information about other people (e.g., their occupations, places of living, favorite spare-time activities etc.) stored in our semantic memory, and we can typically access this knowledge with high efficiency. Accordingly, the information needs to be organized in a way which allows this fast and usually effortless access.

While classic hierarchical models of semantic knowledge suggest that specific information is stored at each individual node in a semantic net, more recent models suggest a more distributed arrangement. In face recognition research, the Interactive Activation and Competition model (Burton, Bruce, and Johnston, 1990) assumes that person-specific semantic information is stored in so-called Semantic Information Units, which are shared by representations of many individuals.

Our research used semantic priming in combination with even-related brain potentials to test these ideas. While the results generally support the idea of distributed knowledge, direct, associative connections between representations in semantic person memory, which result from visual co-occurrence, also seem to play an important role.

Related publications:

  • Wiese H, Schweinberger SR (in press). Getting connected: Both associative and semantic links structure semantic memory for newly learned persons. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology.
  • Wiese H (2011). The structure of semantic person memory: evidence from semantic priming in person recognition. British Journal of Psychology, 102, Special Issue “Person Perception 25 years after Bruce & Young (1986)”, 899-914.
  • Wiese H, Schweinberger SR (2011). Accessing semantic person knowledge: Temporal dynamics of non-strategic categorical and associative priming. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 23, 447-459.
  • Wiese H, Schweinberger SR (2008). Event-related potentials indicate different processes to mediate categorical and associative priming in person recognition. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 34, 1246-1263.
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