Masked Priming: The State of the Art

Masked Priming: The State of the Art

Masked Priming: The State of the Art

Masked Priming: The State of the Art

Synopsis

Masked priming has a short and somewhat controversial history. When used as a tool to study whether semantic processing can occur in the absence of conscious awareness, considerable debate followed, mainly about whether masked priming truly tapped unconscious processes. For research into other components of visual word processing, however - in particular, orthographic, phonological, and morphological - a general consensus about the evidence provided by masked priming results has emerged. This book contains thirteen original chapters in which these three components of visual word processing are examined using the masked priming procedure. The chapters showcase the advantages of masked priming as an alternative to more standard methods of studying language processing that require comparisons of matched items. Based on a recent conference, this book offers up-to-date research findings, and would be valuable to researchers and students of word recognition, psycholinguistics, or reading.

Excerpt

Masked priming has traditionally been used to study unconscious perception: In the 1970s and 1980s, the main theoretical issue being investigated was whether it is possible to process the meaning of a prime word without being able to consciously identify it. The central empirical issue then was how to measure conscious awareness so that one could successfully determine whether conscious awareness of that prime word had occurred. Thus, much of the debate centered on the question of whether the reported effects constituted real evidence of unconscious processing of meaning. This book has a different focus in that we start from the standpoint that the accumulated data clearly indicate that subjects do process some aspects of the prime word (in particular, orthographic, phonological, and morphological properties) outside of awareness, even if they do not necessarily process the meaning of the word. The theme of the book is what masked priming effects can tell us about the nature of these aspects of visual word recognition.

The first section concerns the mechanisms underlying masked priming effects. The first chapter, The Mechanics of Masked Priming, by Forster, Mohan, and Hector, presents an overview of methodological issues, describing some of the variations in the masked priming procedure, then presents a review of the mechanisms underlying masked priming effects. In particular, the authors suggest that the use of masked primes precludes the occurrence of strategies for facilitating the decision process-that is, in their words, it “removes the frontal lobes from the picture.” In this way, they argue, a masked prime, as opposed to a consciously available prime, provides a better measure of the processes of interest to word recognition researchers. In the next chapters, Bowers, as well as Masson and Bodner, further discuss the question of what is the basis for masked priming effects. Bowers asks whether masked priming is a type of long-term repetition priming effect, ultimately concluding that it is. Masson and Bodner also argue that masked and long-term priming have a common basis. However, they interpret the effects from an episodic perspective, quite the opposite of Bowers's position.

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