Three experiments tested the hypothesis that activation of semantic memory from perceptual input does not require initial retention of the perceptual material in working memory as assumed by a widely held view of information processing. In Expt 1, two brain-damaged patients with left-sided unilateral spatial neglect were tested. They were asked to listen to and read a series of familiar (British) and unfamiliar (foreign) proverbs and to choose which proverb was the best match to a depicted figure shown with the target object(s) on the left (neglected side) of the patients' visual field. Expt 2 simulated the testing conditions for the neglect patients with healthy participants using subliminal presentation of one half of each picture. Using different materials, Expt 3 replicated the outcomes of Expts 1 and 2 with a third neglect patient and a new group of controls. In all three experiments, participants appeared to be unaware of target features; however they selected familiar, but not unfamiliar, target proverbs above chance. The results showing implicit processing of semantic material can be explained by a model in which working memory is a separate system that deals with activated contents of semantic memory, and in which there is direct activation of semantic memory from perception without intermediate stages of processing in working memory.