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Unconscious processing of dichoptically masked words

Abstract

In three experiments, the subjects' task was to decide whether each of a series of words connoted something good (e.g.,fame, comedy, rescue) or bad(stress, detest, malaria). One-half second before the presentation of each such target word, an evaluatively polarized priming word was presented briefly to the nondominant eye and was masked dichoptically by either the rapidly following (Experiment 1) or simultaneous (Experiments 2 and 3) presentation of a random letter-fragment pattern to the dominant eye. (The effectiveness of the masking procedure was demonstrated by the subjects' inability to discriminate the left vs. right position of a test series of words.) In all experiments, significant masked priming effects were obtained; evaluative decisions to congruent masked prime-target combinations (such as a positive masked prime followed by a positive target) were significantly faster than those to incongruent (e.g., negative prime/positive target) or noncongruent (e.g., neutral prime/positive target) combinations. Also, in two of the three experiments, when subjects were at chance accuracy in discriminating word position, their position judgments were nevertheless significantly influenced by the irrelevant semantic content (LEFT vs. RIGHT) of the masked position-varying words. The series of experiments demonstrated that two very different tasks—speeded judgment of evaluative meaning and nonspeeded judgment of word position—yielded statistically significant and replicable influences of the semantic content of apparently undetectable words. Coupled with previous research by others using the lexical decision task, these findings converge in establishing the reliability of the empirical phenomenon of semantic processing of words that are rendered undetectable bydichoptic pattern masking.

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This research was supported by NSF Grant BNS-82-17006 and by NIMH Grant MH-41328.

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Greenwald, A.G., Klinger, M.R. & Liu, T.J. Unconscious processing of dichoptically masked words. Memory & Cognition 17, 35–47 (1989). https://doi.org/10.3758/BF03199555

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.3758/BF03199555

Keywords

  • Lexical Decision Task
  • Letter String
  • Word Stimulus
  • Word Meaning
  • Priming Stimulus