I will show that in the context of a conceptualization task a repeated pictorial object is not categorized faster than on its first occurrence if lexico-sortal information given with a verbal context strongly primes the object. This indicates that sortal information affects processing earlier than a conceptually memorized object can be retrieved. The contrary position implies that the system benefits from the repetition in any case because the familiarity with the perceptual data facilitates processing irrespective of the context (cf. Bruce et al., 2000; Warren & Morton, 1982 for discussion).
To address this issue a reaction time study with an object categorization task was conducted in German. It was tested whether the repetition of an object facilitates processing if the object occurs in (fourteen) sentential contexts strongly suggesting a corresponding entity (1/1') vs. not suggesting it (2/2'):
The plausibility of the depicted object to follow the verb was controlled on the basis of a corpus study. For both plausible and implausible verb-pictures sequences, only those were chosen which matched the predefined statistical range to occur as (in-)significant neighbors. The interval between first and second occurrences was also controlled as well as the size of the depicted objects.
Sentences were presented word by word and the picture occurred after the article in each trial. Promptly, participants had to decide whether the object would fit onto a mat placed in front of the screen.
Most importantly, the statistics reveal that only implausible pictures are highly sensitive to a repetition whereas plausible pictures are reacted to in the same time window no matter whether they are repeated or not. The results can be interpreted as a reflex of a prompt activation of lexico-sortal restrictions, which immediately paves the way for accessing the object properties under consideration (i.e. size). Therefore, a repetition of the object representation facilitates processing only if the object is not congruous to the preceding sentence fragment. This implies that matching sortal restrictions have an effect on conceptual processing earlier than a reactivation of the object representationtriggered by the repetitioncan come to pass. The plausible motivation for this is a mental strategy storing an object representation at a level relative to the task context the object was processed in and not at the lowest perceptual level, which could presumably be accessed early.
Bruce, V., Carson, D., Burton, M. A., Ellis, A. W. (2000). Perceptual priming is not a necessary consequence of semantic classification of pictures. The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 53A, 289-323.
Warren, C. and J. Morton (1982). The effects of priming on picture recognition. British Journal of Psychology, 73, 117-130.