Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Repetition Proportion Biases Masked Priming of Lexical Decisions

Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Repetition Proportion Biases Masked Priming of Lexical Decisions

Article excerpt

Although subjects have little or no awareness of masked primes, Bodner and Masson (2001) found that priming of lexical decisions is often enhanced when masked repetition primes occur on a high proportion of trials. We used baseline prime conditions to specify the locus of this repetition proportion (RP) effect. In Experiments 1A and 1B, a .8-RP group showed more priming than did a .2-RP group, and this RP effect was due to both (1) increased facilitation from repetition primes and (2) increased interference from unrelated primes. In Experiment 2, we used the baseline condition to show that subjects are sensitive to RP rather than to the proportion of unrelated primes. Direct comparisons of a given prime condition (repetition, unrelated) across RP conditions were more stable than were comparisons relative to the baseline condition. The increased costs and benefits of repetition priming when RP is higher implicate a context-sensitive mechanism that constrains accounts of masked priming.

In the three-field masked priming paradigm, a mask (e.g., xxxx) is immediately followed by a brief prime (e.g., cake; 45 msec), and a target immediately follows the prime (e.g., CAKE). This arrangement largely prevents conscious awareness of the prime, allowing researchers to examine how decisions about the targets are influenced by particular prime-target relationships. In Forster and Davis's (1984) classic study, subjects made accurate lexical (i.e., word vs. nonword) decisions to word targets more quickly when the masked prime was a repetition of the target (e.g., cake-etas.) rather than an unrelated word (e.g., boot-CAKE). In the present article, we also examine masked repetition priming in the lexical decision task, although other kinds of masked primes (e.g., orthographic, phonological, semantic) could have been used to facilitate responses, and other tasks could have been used to assess priming (e.g., naming, semantic categorization). Kinoshita and Lupker (2003) provide several examples of research questions that have been investigated with this methodological tool over the past two decades.

We have been using this paradigm to examine whether the cognitive system can use masked primes in a flexible manner to guide task performance (Bodner & Dypvik, 2005; Bodner & Masson, 2001, 2003, 2004). When the target context is manipulated (e.g., varying the types or proportions of word and/or nonword targets), subjects are aware of this context and thus can set their processing strategies accordingly. For example, in a lexical decision task, use of pseudohomophone nonword targets (e.g., BRANE) can lead subjects to decrease their reliance on phonology, whereas use of consonant string nonword targets (e.g., SHTGS) can lead them to increase their reliance on familiarity (e.g., Bodner & Masson, 1997; Stone & Van Orden, 1993). In contrast, because subjects have little or no awareness of masked primes, the cognitive system's sensitivity to regularities in the prime context can be investigated independently of guidance from conscious strategies. As described next, we have been examining the surprising finding that masked priming is often influenced by the probability that the prime on a given trial provides useful information for processing its target.

Evidence of Prime-Proportion Effects on Masked Priming

Bodner and Masson (2001) varied the proportion of repetition-prime trials (hereafter referred to as RP, for repetition proportion) in the stimulus list across two groups of subjects in a lexical decision task. One group received an RP of .8, and the other received an RP of .2; unrelated primes preceded the remaining targets. Masked repetition priming was greater when the RP was .8, and this RP effect was observed across a variety of contextual manipulations (e.g., word target frequency, nonword target type, target format, prime duration). Although RP did not always influence priming (e.g., under a high degree of trial-to-trial variation in target processing difficulty), other studies have since obtained prime-proportion effects with masked primes. …

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