• Word recognition;
  • Semantic priming;
  • Neural networks;
  • Distributed representations;
  • Latching dynamics


Localist models of spreading activation (SA) and models assuming distributed representations offer very different takes on semantic priming, a widely investigated paradigm in word recognition and semantic memory research. In this study, we implemented SA in an attractor neural network model with distributed representations and created a unified framework for the two approaches. Our models assume a synaptic depression mechanism leading to autonomous transitions between encoded memory patterns (latching dynamics), which account for the major characteristics of automatic semantic priming in humans. Using computer simulations, we demonstrated how findings that challenged attractor-based networks in the past, such as mediated and asymmetric priming, are a natural consequence of our present model’s dynamics. Puzzling results regarding backward priming were also given a straightforward explanation. In addition, the current model addresses some of the differences between semantic and associative relatedness and explains how these differences interact with stimulus onset asynchrony in priming experiments.