Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology

On the (Un)conditionality of Automatic Attitude Activation: The Valence Proportion Effect

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology

On the (Un)conditionality of Automatic Attitude Activation: The Valence Proportion Effect

Article excerpt

Affective priming studies have shown that participants are faster to pronounce affectively polarized target words that are preceded by affectively congruent prime words than affectively polarized target words that are preceded by affectively incongruent prime words. We examined whether affective priming of naming responses depends on the valence proportion (i.e., the proportion of stimuli that are affectively polarized). In one group of participants, experimental trials were embedded in a context of filler trials that consisted of affectively polarized stimulus materials (i.e., high valence proportion condition). In a second group, the same set of experimental trials was embedded in a context of filler trials consisting of neutral stimuli (i.e., low valence proportion condition). Results showed that affective priming of naming responses was significantly stronger in the high valence proportion condition than in the low valence proportion condition. We conclude that (a) subtle aspects of the procedure can influence affective priming of naming responses, (b) finding affective priming of naming responses does not allow for the conclusion that affective stimulus processing is unconditional, and (c) affective stimulus processing depends on selective attention for affective stimulus information.

Keywords: automatic affective processing, affective priming, feature-specific attention allocation, salience, attitudes

Throughout the history of psychology, researchers have advocated the idea that humans are equipped with a mechanism capable of automatically evaluating the affective value of all incoming stimulus information (e.g., Arnold, 1960; Bartlett, 1932; Lazarus, 1966; Wundt, 1907; Zajonc, 1980, 1984). One paradigm often used to study automatic stimulus evaluation is the affective priming paradigm (Fazio, Sanbonmatsu, Powell, & Kardes, 1986). In a typical affective priming study, participants are asked to evaluate several affectively polarized target stimuli as positive or negative as fast as possible (i.e., the evaluative categorisation task). Each of these targets is preceded by an affective prime stimulus. Typically, it is observed that performance is faster and more accurate when prime and target are affectively congruent (e.g., "HAPPY" - "KITTEN") than when they are affectively incongruent (e.g., "TENDER" - "PEDOPHILE"), a phenomenon referred to as the affective priming effect (for reviews, see De Houwer, TeigeMocigemba, Spruyt, & Moors, 2009; Fazio, 2001; Klauer & Musch, 2003). Crucially, such an effect can occur only if the affective meaning of the prime has been processed. Therefore, the affective priming effect can be conceived of as a cognitive marker of affective stimulus processing.

Consistent with the hypothesis that stimulus evaluation occurs in an unconditional, automatic fashion, the affective priming effect has proven to be a rather robust phenomenon. For instance, affective priming effects have been obtained while participants performed an effortful secondary task (Hermans, Crombez, & Eelen, 2000; see also Klauer & Teige-Mocigemba, 2007) and when using short stimulus onset asynchronies (Hermans, De Houwer, & Eelen, 2001), subliminal prime presentations (Draine & Greenwald, 1998; Greenwald, Draine, & Abrams, 1996), and stimuli from different modalities (Hermans, Baeyens, & Eelen, 1998; Hermans, De Houwer, & Eelen, 1994; Spruyt, Hermans, De Houwer, & Eelen, 2002).

Also, whereas most affective priming studies employed the evaluative categorisation task (see above), both Bargh, Chaiken, Raymond, and Hymes (1996) and Hermans et al. (1994) obtained significant affective priming effects using a word naming task. Unlike the evaluative categorisation task, the naming task does not require participants to adopt an explicit evaluative processing goal. The findings of Bargh et al. (1996) and Hermans et al. (1994) therefore suggest that affective stimulus processing does not depend on the activation of an explicit evaluative processing mind-set. …

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