Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology

An Investigation of the Time Course of Category Congruence and Priming Distance Effects in Number Classification Tasks

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology

An Investigation of the Time Course of Category Congruence and Priming Distance Effects in Number Classification Tasks

Article excerpt

The issue investigated in the present research is the nature of the information that is responsible for producing masked priming effects (e.g., semantic information or stimulus-response [S-R] associations) when responding to number stimuli. This issue was addressed by assessing both the magnitude of the category congruence (priming) effect and the nature of the priming distance effect across trials using single-digit primes and targets. Participants made either magnitude (i.e., whether the number presented was larger or smaller than 5) or identification (i.e., press the left button if the number was either a 1, 2, 3, or 4 or the right button if the number was either a 6, 7, 8, or 9) judgments. The results indicated that, regardless of task instruction, there was a clear priming distance effect and a significantly increasing category congruence effect. These results indicated that both semantic activation and S - R associations play important roles in producing masked priming effects.

Keywords: S-R associations, priming distance effects, semantic activation, masked priming

Information that is not directly attended can, nonetheless, influence behaviour. For instance, in the standard Stroop (1935) task. responses are faster when the identity of the ink colour and the word are congruent (e.g., the word blue written in blue ink) than when they are incongruent (e.g., the word blue written in red ink), despite the fact that the responder is purposely not attending to the word. The standard explanation for the Stroop effect is that the presentation of a word stimulus automatically activates the response associated with that irrelevant dimension (i.e., the word's name) and that processing is slowed down when the irrelevant response conflicts with the relevant response (see MacLeod, 1991, for a review).

The notion that nonattended stimuli impact processing, because they activate stimulus-response (S - R) associations, is generally well accepted and plays a crucial role in theories of automaticity (e.g., Klapp & Greenberg, 2009), selective attention (e.g., Fox, 1995; Milliken, Joordens, Merikle, & Seiffert, 1998), and cognitive control (e.g., Bugg, Jacoby, & Chanani, 2010; Jacoby, Lindsay, & Hessels, 2003). In tasks like the Stroop task, however, what is important to note is that the words that produce the interference are clearly visible and, therefore, quite available to consciousness. The purpose of the present research is to investigate the impact of S-R associations when the irrelevant stimuli are presented outside of consciousness. To investigate this issue the masked priming paradigm has typically been employed (e.g., Forster & Davis, 1984; Marcel, 1983).

In a typical masked priming experiment, (prime) stimuli that are briefly presented and masked (forward and/or backward) to further decrease their visibility (and, hence, to prevent them from reaching awareness), do influence responses to subsequently presented targets. For example, responses are typically faster when the prime and target stimuli require the same response (i.e., a congruent trial) than when the prime and target stimuli require different responses (i.e., an incongruent trial). The key question addressed in much of the research on this topic concerns identifying the source of this category congruence effect (see Finkbeiner & Forster, 2008; Kiesel, Kunde, & Hoffmann. 2007; Kouider & Dehaene. 2007; Van den Bussche, Van den Noortgate, & Reynvoet, 2009, for recent reviews). The present research addressed this question by investigating how S-R associations form and impact processing in a masked priming paradigm.

Old Versus New Set Primes

According to one line of research. S- R associations that have developed as a result of continual responding to particular stimuli are the main, if not sole, source of category congruence effects (see, e.g., Abrams, 2005; Abrams & Greenwald, 2000; Boy & Sumner. …

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