Semantic activation without awareness : still no reliable evidence

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Montana State University - Bozeman, College of Letters & Science


Three experiments were conducted to examine whether semantic association contributes to unconscious priming. Experiment 1 used exclusion instructions in which participants were told to avoid completing the stem (e.g. mo---) with a word related to a masked prime (e.g. cash) flashed for 0, 38, or 212 ms. Significant semantic priming was found only in the items analysis when data was averaged across participants. In the subjects analysis, this performance was moderated by participantsα ability to report the prime. Experiment 2 used a free association task to examine unconscious semantic priming. Participants were instructed to respond to a target homograph (e.g. pupil) with the first word that came to mind that is not related to the meaning of the flashed word (e.g. student). No significant unconscious semantic priming was found. Experiment 3 replicated the conditions previously used to demonstrate unconscious semantic priming and show that such priming is due to methodological problems. The same methodology as Experiment 2 was used except participants were given inclusion instead of exclusion instructions. Significant priming was found across all trials; however, this priming dissolved when only the trials where participants failed to report the prime were examined. The results of all experiments suggest that unconscious semantic priming from word stimuli is a result of residual conscious awareness of the prime.




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