Beyond perception: conceptual contributions to unconscious influences of memory
Jeffrey P. Toth and Eyal M. Reingold
Whenever knowledge of the possible interpretation or conceptualization of something helps in perceiving that thing, we say the processing is conceptually driven. That is, the process starts with conceptualization of what might be present and then looks for confirming evidence, biasing the processing mechanisms to give the expected result . . . Conceptually driven processing and data-driven processing almost always occur together, with each direction of processing contributing something to the total analysis. ( Lindsay and Norman 1977, p. 13)
In what ways can a person be unconsciously influenced by the past? In the last quarter century, there has been a great deal of research directed at answering that question. However, the majority of that research has focused on the transfer of prior perceptual or data-driven processing. Much less emphasis has been placed on conceptual factors in the production of unconscious influences even though events are never processed in conceptual isolation -- without a meaningful or interpretive context. The purpose of this chapter is to address the question of whether memory for prior meaning-based processing can unconsciously influence subsequent thought and behaviour -- that is, the question of "conceptual priming'. More generally, we describe how conceptually driven or 'topdown' processes may play a role in all forms of priming, both perceptual and conceptual.
We had three specific goals in writing this chapter. First, we wanted to point out the inadequacies of indirect tests as measures of unconscious influences, especially as they relate to the question of conceptual priming. This goal seems important because, if we are to truly understand the way prior conceptual processing affects subsequent thought and behaviour, we need to begin with unequivocal demonstrations of such effects. Our second goal was to identify some of the conditions necessary for the