Article

Conscious and unconscious perception: experiments on visual masking and word recognition.

MRC Applied Psychology Unit, Cambridge, England
Cognitive Psychology (Impact Factor: 4.05). 05/1983; 15(2):197-237. DOI: 10.1016/0010-0285(83)90009-9
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT Five experiments are presented which explore the relation of masking to consciousness and visual word processing. In Experiment 1 a single word or blank field was followed by a pattern mask. Subjects had to make one of three decisions: Did anything precede the mask? To which of two probe words was what preceded the mask more similar graphically? To which of two probe words was it more similar semantically? As word-mask stimulus onset asynchrony (SOA) was reduced, subjects reached chance performance on the detection, graphic, and semantic decisions in that order. In Experiment 2, subjects again had to choose which of two words was more similar either graphically or semantically to a nondetectable masked word, but the forced-choice stimuli now covaried negatively on graphic and semantic similarity. Subjects were now unable to choose selectively on each dimension, suggesting that their ability to choose in Experiment 1 was passively rather than intentionally mediated. In Experiment 3 subjects had to make manual identification responses to color patches which were either accompanied or preceded by words masked to prevent awareness. Color-congruent words facilitated reaction time (RT), color-incongruent words delayed RT. Experiment 4 used a lexical decision task where a trial consisted of the critical letter string following another not requiring a response. When both were words they were either semantically associated or not. The first letter string was either left unmasked, energy masked monoptically, or pattern masked dichoptically to prevent awareness. The effect of association was equal in the unmasked and pattern masked cases, but absent with energy masking. In Experiment 5 repeating a word-plus-mask (where the SOA precluded detection) from 1 to 20 times (a) increased the association effect on a subsequent lexical decision, but had no effect on (b) detectability or (c) the semantic relatedness of forced guesses of the masked word. It is proposed that central pattern masking has little effect on visual processing itself (while peripheral energy masking does), but affects availability of records of the results of those processes to consciousness. Perceptual processing itself is unconscious and automatically proceeds to all levels of analysis and redescription available to the perceiver. The general importance of these findings is to cast doubt on the paradigm assumption that representations yielded by perceptual analysis are identical to and directly reflected by phenomenal percepts.

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