Semantic priming of familiar songs

Sarah K. Johnson
Andrea R. Halpern, Bucknell University


We explored the functional organization of semantic memory for music by comparing priming across familiar songs both within modalities (Experiment 1, tune to tune; Experiment 3, category label to lyrics) and across modalities (Experiment 2, category label to tune; Experiment 4, tune to lyrics). Participants judged whether or not the target tune or lyrics were real (akin to lexical decision tasks). We found significant priming, analogous to linguistic associative-priming effects, in reaction times for related primes as compared to unrelated primes, but primarily for within-modality comparisons. Reaction times to tunes (e.g., "Silent Night") were faster following related tunes ("Deck the Hall") than following unrelated tunes ("God Bless America"). However, a category label (e.g., Christmas) did not prime tunes from within that category. Lyrics were primed by a related category label, but not by a related tune. These results support the conceptual organization of music in semantic memory, but with potentially weaker associations across modalities.