Single Word Semantic Priming in High Functioning Individuals with Autistic Spectrum Disorder

Friday, May 13, 2016: 5:30 PM-7:00 PM
Hall A (Baltimore Convention Center)



Current research literature is controversial with regard to the higher-level linguistic processing capacity of young individuals with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD), and more specifically whether they utilize Semantic Priming similarly to neurotypical individuals (Lopez & Leekam, 2003; Kamio et al, 2006; Henderson et al, 2011; Norbury, 2013 in Dromi, Rum & Goldberg-Florian, in press).

No data was found with regard to the Semantic Priming Effect in young individuals with ASD who acquire and use a language other than English. 


This study explores the Semantic Priming Effect, as well as the speed and accuracy of identifying words and non-words, in high-functioning Hebrew-speaking adolescents with ASD.


We recruited two groups of participants: 22 adolescents with ASD in the age range of 14-27 (m=20.62 sd=2.59) comprised the experimental group, while 17 participants in the age range of 15-26 (m=21.13 sd=3.09) comprised the comparison group. A list of 36 semantically related word-pairs was constructed for use as stimuli for each experiment. A lexical chice task was administered using a computerized testing system that measured response time for a word versus that for non-word.

Two experiments were conducted. The first experiment was designed to encourage a quick, automatic, and subconscious response in determining the semantic relation between paired words (Stimulus-Onset Asynchrony – SOA of 100 ms).The second experiment was designed to elicit strategic thought processes in making the judgment on the semantic relation between the same pairs of words (SOA of 1000 ms). The findings were analyzed several times in order to isolate the variables and examine their effect on the results. 


In both experiments, the response time of participants in the experimental group was slower compared to the comparison group, and this was especially so when the target words were non-words.

The Semantic Priming Effect findings were different in the two experiments: In the first experiment, the experimental group demonstrated a Semantic Priming Effect similar to the comparison group. In the second experiment, a Semantic Priming Effect was not found in the experimental group, and the elimination of the subjects with reading difficulties did not change the outcome. Only the exclusion of cases of exceptional response times (±2 standard deviations) resulted in the experimental group demonstrating a Semantic Priming Effect similar to the comparison group. In all analyses, the heterogeneity and lack of uniformity in the responses of participants with ASD was evident.


The findings suggest a need to differentiate between participants with ASD who exhibit linguistic impairment (Autistic with Language Impairment - ALI) and those who show efficient linguistic processing capacity even in highly demanding tasks (Autistic without Language Impairment - ALN). Moreover, in future research, more attention should be paid to the selection of participants, including controlling for those with and without reading difficulties. Finally, it is recommended that Semantic Priming experiments be administered to larger groups of individuals with ASD who learn and use different languages.