Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

On the Nature of the Affective Priming Effect: Effects of Stimulus Onset Asynchrony and Congruency Proportion in Naming and Evaluative Categorization

Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

On the Nature of the Affective Priming Effect: Effects of Stimulus Onset Asynchrony and Congruency Proportion in Naming and Evaluative Categorization

Article excerpt

In line with the hypothesis that affective priming of evaluative categorization responses is based on processes that operate at a response selection stage, it has been observed that increasing the proportion of congruent trials brings about increased affective priming effects at short stimulus onset asynchronies (SOAs) in the evaluative categorization task. In the present study, we orthogonally manipulated the congruency proportion (.25, .50, and .75) and the SOA (0, 200, and 1,000 msec) in the evaluative categorization task and a naming task. Results showed that at both short and long SOAs, the affective priming effect in the evaluative categorization task was influenced by the congruency proportion. In contrast, affective pruning effects in the naming task were unaffected by the congruency proportion at short SOAs. This pattern of results provides corroborating evidence for the hypotheses (1) that different processes underlie the affective priming effect in the evaluative categorization task and the naming task and (2) that valenced stimuli can automatically preactivate the memory representations of other, affectively related stimuli.

Recent theories of affect and emotion propose that attitudes can become active automatically and that automatic affective stimulus processing can have an important impact on subsequent emotional, cognitive, and/or behavioral processes (e.g., Bargh, 1996; Bargh, Litt, Pratto, & Spielman, 1989; Greenwald & Banaji, 1995; Lazarus, 1991; LeDoux, 1989; Murphy & Zajonc, 1993; Önman, 1987, 1988; Ortony, Clore, & Collins, 1988; Scherer, 1993; Zajonc, 1980, 1984). In line with these hypotheses, affective priming studies (see Klauer & Musch, 2003, for a review) have demonstrated that valenced target stimuli are responded to more quickly after the presentation of an affectively related prime stimulus than after the presentation of an affectively unrelated prime stimulus. This affective priming effect has been found (1) when the stimulus onset asynchrony (SOA; i.e., the interval between the prime and the target) was short (e.g., Fazio, Sanbonmatsu, Powell, & Kardes, 1986; Hermans, De Houwer, & Helen, 2001), (2) when all the procedural features that might induce a strategic evaluative processing goal were removed (e.g., Bargh, Chaiken, Raymond, & Hymes, 1996; Spruyt, Hermans, De Houwer, & Helen, 2002), (3) when a secondary memory load task depleted cognitive capacities (e.g., Hermans, Crombez, & Helen, 2000), and (4) even when the primes were presented subliminally (e.g., Draine & Greenwald, 1998; Greenwald, Klinger, & Liu, 1989; Greenwald, Klinger, & Schuh, 1995; Hermans, Spruyt, De Houwer, & Helen, 2003). Moreover, the affective priming effect has been demonstrated with a wide variety of stimulus materials, including words (e.g., Fazio et al., 1986), line drawings (e.g., Giner-Sorolla, Garcia, & Bargh, 1999), complex color pictures (e.g., Spruyt et al., 2002), odors (e.g., Hermans, Baeyens, & Helen, 1998), evaluatively conditioned stimuli (e.g., Spruyt, Hermans, De Houwer, & Helen, 2004), and novel stimuli (e.g., Duckworth, Bargh, Garcia, & Chaiken, 2002). Hence, it has been concluded that humans are, indeed, endowed with an evaluative decision mechanism that allows them to automatically and unconditionally evaluate all incoming stimulus information (e.g., Spruyt et al., 2002).

Despite the fact that affective priming research has made progress in describing and documenting the occurrence of the affective priming effect, disagreement exists concerning the nature of the underlying mechanism that is responsible for the observed effects. Whereas several researchers have claimed that the affective priming effect can be produced only by processes that operate at a response selection stage (e.g., De Houwer, Hermans, Rothermund, & Wentura, 2002; Klauer, 1998; Klauer, Roßnagel, & Musch, 1997; Klinger, Burton, & Pitts, 2000; Musch, Klauer, & Mierke, 2004; Rothermund & Wentura, 1998; Wentura, 1999, 2000), others have argued that affective priming effects may also be produced by processes that operate at an encoding level (e. …

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