“Conscious and Unconscious Perception: Experiments on Visual Masking and Word Recognition,”

MRC Applied Psychology Unit, Cambridge, England
Cognitive Psychology (Impact Factor: 5.06). 05/1983; 15(2):197-237. DOI: 10.1016/0010-0285(83)90009-9
Source: PubMed


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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    • "Surprisingly, there seems to be only one word-learning study (Altarriba and Mathis, 1997) that made use of the Stroop task to test newly learned links between unfamiliar words and color concepts, and even the results from this study offer only limited conclusions with regard to the automaticity of semantic activation in novel words (see below). 1 There is in fact a lively debate about whether word reading in the Stroop task is in itself fully automatic or whether it can be blocked under extreme experimental circumstances (probably yes; e.g., Besner, 2001). However, the relevant questions here are whether word reading can be avoided through the participant's intention alone (probably not; see, e.g., Experiment 7, Brown et al., 2002), and whether once a word has been read, a participant can avoid to process its semantic content (most probably not; e.g., Marcel, 1983; Dehaene et al., 1998; see also Augustinova and Ferrand, 2014). "
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    ABSTRACT: The Stroop task is an excellent tool to test whether reading a word automatically activates its associated meaning, and it has been widely used in mono-and bilingual contexts. Despite of its ubiquity, the task has not yet been employed to test the automaticity of recently established word-concept links in novel-word-learning studies, under strict experimental control of learning and testing conditions. In three experiments, we thus paired novel words with native language (German) color words via lexical association and subsequently tested these words in a manual version of the Stroop task. Two crucial findings emerged: When novel word Stroop trials appeared intermixed among native-word trials, the novel-word Stroop effect was observed immediately after the learning phase. If no native color words were present in a Stroop block, the novel-word Stroop effect only emerged 24 h later. These results suggest that the automatic availability of a novel word's meaning depends either on supportive context from the learning episode and/or on sufficient time for memory consolidation. We discuss how these results can be reconciled with the complementary learning systems account of word learning.
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    • "Visual consciousness has been the focus of intense research in the last two decades (Marcel, 1983; Erdelyi, 1986, 2004; Greenwald et al., 1996; Vorberg et al., 2003; Ramsøy and Overgaard, 2004; Lau and Passingham, 2006; Schmidt and Vorberg, 2006; Lamy et al., 2009; Sandberg et al., 2010). The search for the limits of unconscious processing lies at the heart of this research: which processes can unfold in the absence of conscious perception and conversely, for which processes is consciousness essential? "
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    ABSTRACT: Stimuli can be rendered invisible using a variety of methods and the method selected to demonstrate unconscious processing in a given study often appears to be arbitrary. Here, we compared unconscious processing under continuous flash suppression (CFS) and meta-contrast masking, using similar stimuli, tasks and measures. Participants were presented with a prime arrow followed by a target arrow. They made a speeded response to the target arrow direction and then reported on the prime's visibility. Perception of the prime was made liminal using either meta-contrast masking (Experiment 1) or CFS (Experiments 2 and 3). Conscious perception of the prime was assessed using a sensitive visibility scale ranging from 0 to 3 and unconscious processing was measured as the priming effect on target discrimination performance of prime-target direction congruency when prime visibility was null. Crucially, in order to ensure that the critical stimuli were equally distant from the limen of consciousness, we sought stimulus and temporal parameters for which the proportion of 0-visibility trials was comparable for the two methods. We found that the method used to prevent conscious perception matters: unconscious processing was substantial with meta-contrast masking but absent with CFS. These findings suggest that CFS allows very little perceptual processing, if at all, and that previous reports of high-level and complex unconscious processing during CFS may result from partial awareness.
    Full-text · Article · Sep 2014 · Frontiers in Psychology
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    • "He was only able to do as instructed, and override his automatic tendency to report the actual quadrant the stimulus was in, when the stimulus was consciously detected. There is considerable experimental evidence for the dominance of conscious events over automatic action programs (for example, the experimental data in McCauley et al., 1980; Marcel, 1983; Groeger, 1984, 1986; Merikle and Joordens, 1997; Rossetti, 1998; Haggard and Johnson, 2003). In each of these experiments, when non-conscious processes extracted multiple interpretations, the single interpretation that consciousness was able to access had a dominant influence on subjects' responses. "
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    ABSTRACT: This research is an investigation of whether consciousness-one's ongoing experience-influences one's behavior and, if so, how. Analysis of the components, structure, properties, and temporal sequences of consciousness has established that, (1) contrary to one's intuitive understanding, consciousness does not have an active, executive role in determining behavior; (2) consciousness does have a biological function; and (3) consciousness is solely information in various forms. Consciousness is associated with a flexible response mechanism (FRM) for decision-making, planning, and generally responding in nonautomatic ways. The FRM generates responses by manipulating information and, to function effectively, its data input must be restricted to task-relevant information. The properties of consciousness correspond to the various input requirements of the FRM; and when important information is missing from consciousness, functions of the FRM are adversely affected; both of which indicate that consciousness is the input data to the FRM. Qualitative and quantitative information (shape, size, location, etc.) are incorporated into the input data by a qualia array of colors, sounds, and so on, which makes the input conscious. This view of the biological function of consciousness provides an explanation why we have experiences; why we have emotional and other feelings, and why their loss is associated with poor decision-making; why blindsight patients do not spontaneously initiate responses to events in their blind field; why counter-habitual actions are only possible when the intended action is in mind; and the reason for inattentional blindness.
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