Semantically convergent and semantically divergent priming in the cerebral hemispheres: Lexical decision and semantic judgment

Miriam Faust, Michal Lavidor

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95 Scopus citations


The effects of semantically divergent and semantically convergent priming on the processing of lexical ambiguity by the two cerebral hemispheres were examined in two visual hemifield experiments. The experiments investigated the ability of the right hemisphere (RH) and the left hemisphere (LH) to summate activation from two single word primes followed by a laterally presented ambiguous target word. In a lexical decision task (experiment 1), the two priming words were either both related to the dominant meaning of the target (new, fresh-NOVEL), or to the subordinate meaning (story, book-NOVEL), or to one dominant and one subordinate meaning (new, story-NOVEL). Results indicated that the LH benefited most from semantically convergent primes that converged onto the dominant meaning of the ambiguous target word, whereas the RH benefited most from semantically mixed (divergent) primes, that diverge on alternate meanings of the ambiguous target word. We used the same stimuli in a semantic relatedness judgment task (experiment 2), and found that the facilitation in the RH was significantly larger when the primes were mixed than when both primes converged on a single (i.e. either dominant or subordinate) meaning of the to-be-presented target word. In contrast, the only facilitation found in the LH was when the two primes were associated with a single meaning (either dominant or subordinate) of the to-be-presented target word. When the primes were mixed, there was no facilitation in the LH. These results support previous findings indicating that during word recognition, the RH activates a broader range of related meanings than the LH, including alternate meanings of ambiguous words. Thus, by summating activation for seemingly incongruous elements, the RH may be critically involved in at least one important component of verbal creativity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)585-597
Number of pages13
JournalCognitive Brain Research
Issue number3
StatePublished - Oct 2003


  • Cognition
  • Hemispheric asymmetry
  • Lexical ambiguity
  • Multiple priming
  • Neural basis of behavior
  • Visual fields


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