Inhibitory effects during object name retrieval: The effect of interval between prime and target on picture naming responses


Requests for reprints should be addressed to Dr Melanie Vitkovitch, Department of Psychology, University of East London, Romford Road, London E15 4LZ, UK (e-mail:


Three picture naming experiments are reported which examine the relationship between the apparent inhibition of a response on one trial, and naming latency on the subsequent trial. The design of each experiment involves the presentation of prime and target pairs, either presented in succession (Lag 1 condition), or separated by two intervening unrelated trials (Lag 3 condition). A control condition is also included. In Experiment 1, a speeded picture naming task is used, and naming errors are analysed. Target pictures are misnamed at above chance rates with the name of the semantically related prime picture in the Lag 3 condition. In contrast, these prime-related errors do not occur in the Lag 1 condition, suggesting a brief inhibitory effect. If primes are briefly inhibited, then target naming latencies immediately following a related prime should be quicker than target latencies in the Lag 3 condition. Experiment 2 confirms this pattern of results, using exactly the same stimuli and design, but standard naming instructions. Experiment 3 examines whether the inferred inhibition is the result of a self-inhibitory mechanism, using a repetition priming paradigm. If Lag 1 prime representations are self-inhibited, then facilitatory effects from prime/target repetition should be stronger in the Lag 3 condition, than in the Lag 1 condition. The data from Expt 3 were not consistent with this prediction. Taken together, the results of the three experiments suggest that a brief inhibitory effect occurs after retrieval of an object name, and that the inhibition may be accomplished by mechanisms other than self-inhibition.