, Volume 40, Issue 8, pp 1366-1372
Date: 20 Jul 2012

Feeling the past: The absence of experimental evidence for anomalous retroactive influences on text processing


In two self-paced reading experiments, we investigated the hypothesis that information moves backward in time to influence prior behaviors (Bem Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 100:407–425, 2011a). In two of Bem’s experiments, words were presented after target pictures in a pleasantness judgment task. In a condition in which the words were consistent with the emotional valence of the picture, reaction times to the pictures were significantly shorter , as compared with a condition in which the words were inconsistent with the emotional valence of the picture. Bem Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 100:407–425, (2011a) interpreted these results as showing a “retroactive priming” effect resulting from precognition. To test the precognition hypothesis, we adapted a standard repetition priming paradigm from psycholinguistics. In the experiments, participants read a set of texts. In one condition, the participants read the same text twice. In other conditions, participants read two different texts. The precognition hypothesis predicts that readers who encounter the same text twice will experience reductions in processing load during their first encounter with the text. Hence, these readers' average reading times should be shorter than those of readers who encounter the target text only once. Our results indicated that readers processed the target text faster the second time they read it. Also, their reading times decreased as their experience with the self-paced reading procedure increased. However, participants read the target text equally quickly during their initial encounter with the text, whether or not the text was subsequently repeated. Thus, the experiments demonstrated normal repetition priming and practice effects but offered no evidence for retroactive influences on text processing.