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Henson, R.N.
In New Encyclopedia of Neuroscience, L Squire, T Albright, F Bloom, F Gage & N Spitzer (Eds.), 1055-1063
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Priming refers to a change in behavioral response to a stimulus, following prior exposure to the same, or a related, stimulus. Examples include faster reaction times to make a decision about the stimulus, a bias to produce that stimulus when generating responses, or the more accurate identification of a degraded version of the stimulus. From the memory perspective, the most exciting aspect to priming concerns evidence that it can occur in the absence of conscious memory for the prior exposure (an example of so-called ‘implicit’ or ‘nondeclarative’ memory). For instance, amnesic patients typically show intact levels of priming, despite their impairments in conscious (‘explicit’ or ‘declarative’) memory. Evidence like this led to the proposal that the brain regions supporting priming are different from the medial temporal lobe (MTL) regions believed to support declarative memory. Indeed, it is often assumed that priming is the by-product of prior processing of a stimulus, that is, arising from plasticity in multiple cortical regions whose primary role is perceptual/conceptual processing. As such, priming is likely to be one of the most basic expressions of memory, influencing how we perceive and interpret the world.