Research Articles

Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics

, Volume 71, Issue 6, pp 1276-1283

A task-difficulty artifact in subliminal priming

  • Michael S. PratteAffiliated withDepartment of Psychological Sciences, University of Missouri Email author 
  • , Jeffrey N. RouderAffiliated withDepartment of Psychological Sciences, University of Missouri


Subliminal priming is said to occur when a subliminal prime influences the classification of a subsequent target. Most subliminal-priming claims are based on separate target- and prime-classification tasks. Because primes are intended to be subliminal, the prime-classification task is difficult, and the target-classification task is easy. To assess whether this task-difficulty difference accounts for previous claims of subliminal priming, we manipulated the ease of the prime-classification task by intermixing long-duration (visible) primes with short-duration (near liminal) ones. In Experiment 1, this strategy of intermixing long-duration primes raised classification of the shortduration ones. In Experiments 2 and 3, prime duration was lowered in such a way that prime classification was at chance in intermixed presentations. Under these conditions, we failed to observe any priming effects; hence, previous demonstrations of subliminal priming may simply have reflected a task-difficulty artifact.