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Masked Priming

It has been demonstrated numerous times that words which are barely noticeable sometimes influence later behavior. This "subliminal" processing effect has generated a great deal of intrigue as well as controversy. One of the most commonly used methods for examining this effect has been a masked priming technique. In this technique words are displayed on a computer screen extremely rapidly. These words are preceded and followed by visual noise (called a mask, e.g. X#X#X#). Following this masked word a person sees a letter string in the center of the screen. People are instructed that this letter string will sometimes be a word (e.g. GIRL) and will sometimes be a nonword (e.g. GIRK). The person’s task is to decide if the letter string is or is not a word. If it is a word, they press one key on the computer keyboard; if it is not a word, they press another key. The speed and accuracy with which this keypress response is made is measured. Interestingly, priming is found even when the first word is undetectable (i.e. "subliminal"). Recently, it has been found that conscious expectations can influence this unconscious priming effect (Dagenbach, Carr, & Wilhelmson, 1989; Kahan, 2000; Stolz & Besner, 1997). Specifically, if a person expects the words are related they are SLOWER to respond to the related items. Presently two theories claim to account for these results. Our research is intended to test between these divergent theories.

Some Related Publications

Kahan, T. A., & Enns, J. T. (2010). Object trimming: When masking dots alter rather than replace target representations. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 36, 88-102.

Kahan, T. A. (2000). Negative priming from masked words: Retrospective prime-clarification or center-surround inhibition? Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 26, 1392-1410.

Neill, W. T., & Kahan, T. A. (1999). Response conflict reverses priming: A replication. Psychonomic Bulletin and Review, 6 (2), 304-308.