Auditory Masked Priming

Much of my research involves the use of the auditory masked priming paradigm (Kouider and Dupoux, 2005; Schluter, 2013) to explore the processes underlying spoken word recognition. In a typical trial of an auditory masked priming experiment, participants will hear a prime followed immediately by the target (Figure 1), and their task is to perform some judgment to the target (e.g. judge whether it is a word).

Typically, participants are not consciously aware of the existence of the prime (as in visual masked priming, some awareness of repetition primes may occur), but they process it anyway, and we know this because their response to the target changes depending on the relationship between the prime and the target. We "mask" the prime by doing three things:

  1. Durationally compressing the prime, either using a fixed compression rate (e.g. 35% of the target's original duration) (Kouider and Dupoux, 2005) or using a fixed compressed duration (e.g. 240 ms) (Schluter, 2013).
  2. Amplitude-attenuating the prime.
  3. Embedding the prime in a series of forward and backward masks. The masks are similarly durationally-compressed and amplitude-attenuated, but they are also played in reverse, preventing their identification.
Participants' subjective experience of the masks and prime (what we tell them is "noise") is that it sounds like an alien language, like a particular foreign language (e.g. "Chinese", "Navajo"), or like background chatter at a party.

Sample stimuli


You can listen to sample trials from an auditory masked priming study by playing the sound files below. These files are from Geary (2019). Across files the target and the masks are the same (the target is always biscuit), but the primes differ. In a real experiment, participants will hear each target once in only one of the possible priming conditions, and the target and set of masks will vary from trial to trial.

***You should listen to these files while wearing headphones.***

In this file, the prime is a repetition prime: biscuit [bɪskət].

In this file, the prime is a non-word formed by transposing the first and final consonants of biscuit: [tɪskəb].

In this file, the prime is an unrelated non-word: [ɹænʤəm].

Selected references


    Davis, C., Kim, J., and Barbaro, A. (2010). Masked speech priming: neighborhood size matters. The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 172: 2110. https://doi.org/10.1121/1.3353116
    Geary, J. (2019). "Testing the role of phoneme order in lexical access using transposed-phoneme priming". The 32nd Annual CUNY Conference on Human Sentence Processing (CUNY 2019), Boulder, CO, March 31, 2019. [Poster]
    Geary, J., and Ussishkin, A. (2019). Morphological priming without semantic relationship in Hebrew spoken word recognition. Proceedings of the Linguistics Society of America 4. https://doi.org/10.3765/plsa.v4i1.4509
    Schluter, K. T. (2013). Hearing words without structure: subliminal speech priming and the organization of the Moroccan Arabic lexicon. PhD Thesis, University of Arizona. http://hdl.handle.net/10150/301752
    Ussishkin, A., Warner, N., Clayton, I., Brenner, D., Carnie, A., Hammond, M., and Fisher, M. (2017). Lexical representation and processing of word-initial morphological alternations: Scottish Gaelic mutation. Laboratory Phonology 8. http://doi.org/10.5334/labphon.22