Conditional automaticity in subliminal morphosyntactic priming

Abstract

We used a gender-classification task to test the principles of subliminal morphosyntactic priming. In Experiment 1, masked, subliminal feminine or masculine articles were used as primes. They preceded a visible target noun. Subliminal articles either had a morphosyntactically congruent or incongruent gender with the targets. In a gender-classification task of the target nouns, subliminal articles primed the responses: responses were faster in congruent than incongruent conditions (Experiment 1). In Experiment 2, we tested whether this congruence effect depended on gender relevance. In line with a relevance-dependence, the congruence effect only occurred in a gender-classification task but was absent in another categorical discrimination of the target nouns (Experiment 2). The congruence effect also depended on correct word order. It was diminished when nouns preceded articles (Experiment 3). Finally, the congruence effect was replicated with a larger set of targets but only for masculine targets (Experiment 4). Results are discussed in light of theories of subliminal priming in general and of subliminal syntactic priming in particular.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    It could be argued that even this syntactically incongruent sentence was in fact syntactically congruent. However, these are original example sequences from the study of Sereno. We preferred to take this example because at least with these two sequences, the same prime word ‘your’ was used in congruent and incongruent conditions. This was not the case in many other instances of Sereno’s study in which different prime words were used in congruent than incongruent conditions.

  2. 2.

    The gender-orthogonal category membership of every target word (as belonging either to the body parts or to the cutlery/china category) was used for target discrimination in the subsequent Experiment 2. This was done to create conditions in which gender-specific deflections of the determiners were task-irrelevant and, due to the syntactic polyvalence of the determiners, a gender-specific conditionally automatic priming effect should be absent with the same determiners as primes.

  3. 3.

    In the present study, this was only true for the two masculine china/cutlery target nouns that had the same singular as plural word form (‘Teller’, and ‘Löffel’). For the two masculine body-part target nouns with different singular (‘Arm’ and ‘Mund’) than plural word forms (‘Arme’ and ‘Münder’, respectively) the German word ‘die’ was not a syntactically fitting plural article. The masculine body-part target conditions allowed us therefore to assess task-independent syntactic prime-target congruence effects in Experiment 2’s gender-independent category task. No such congruence effect was found. Therefore, the task relevance was crucial for the primes’ syntactic use.

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Acknowledgments

This work was supported by GRC Grants AN 393/2-1 and AN 393/5-1 (Germany).

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Correspondence to Ulrich Ansorge.

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Ansorge, U., Reynvoet, B., Hendler, J. et al. Conditional automaticity in subliminal morphosyntactic priming. Psychological Research 77, 399–421 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00426-012-0442-z

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Keywords

  • Congruence Effect
  • Incongruent Condition
  • Prime Word
  • Mental Lexicon
  • Definite Article