Unconscious priming of task-switching generalizes to an untrained task

Tom Manly, Jessica Fish, Sarah Griffiths, Meike Molenveld, Fanzhi Zou, Greg Davis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Evidence suggests that subliminal stimuli can influence ostensibly volitional, executive processes but it is unclear whether this is highly task-specific. To address this we used a set-switching task. Volunteers saw a word pair and reported either if both words had the same number of syllables or if both were concrete. Task selection was random and instructed by a hexagon/triangle preceding the words. A subliminally-presented square or diamond reliably preceded each of these consciously perceived instruction-shapes. Significant congruency effects were observed in a subsequent Test Phase in which primes no longer reliably predicted the task (and in which high/low tones now served as conscious instructions). The Generalization Phase required novel phonological (rhyme) or semantic (category) judgments. Remarkably, unconscious priming congruency effects carried over in those participants who had shown priming in the Test Phase, the degree correlating across the two conditions. In a final phase of the study, participants were asked to discriminate between the two originally presented prime shapes. Those participants whose discriminations were more accurate showed reduced priming relative to participants with less accurate discriminations. The results suggest that, rather than being highly task specific, priming can operate at the level of a generalizable process and that greater awareness of primes may lessen their impact on behavior.

AB - Evidence suggests that subliminal stimuli can influence ostensibly volitional, executive processes but it is unclear whether this is highly task-specific. To address this we used a set-switching task. Volunteers saw a word pair and reported either if both words had the same number of syllables or if both were concrete. Task selection was random and instructed by a hexagon/triangle preceding the words. A subliminally-presented square or diamond reliably preceded each of these consciously perceived instruction-shapes. Significant congruency effects were observed in a subsequent Test Phase in which primes no longer reliably predicted the task (and in which high/low tones now served as conscious instructions). The Generalization Phase required novel phonological (rhyme) or semantic (category) judgments. Remarkably, unconscious priming congruency effects carried over in those participants who had shown priming in the Test Phase, the degree correlating across the two conditions. In a final phase of the study, participants were asked to discriminate between the two originally presented prime shapes. Those participants whose discriminations were more accurate showed reduced priming relative to participants with less accurate discriminations. The results suggest that, rather than being highly task specific, priming can operate at the level of a generalizable process and that greater awareness of primes may lessen their impact on behavior.
Original languageEnglish
JournalPLoS ONE
Volume9
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2014

Structured keywords

  • Brain and Behaviour
  • Nutrition and Behaviour

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