VISUAL SIMILARITY IN MASKING AND PRIMING: THE CRITICAL ROLE OF TASK RELEVANCE
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Cognitive scientists use rapid image sequences to study both the emergence of conscious perception (visual masking) and the unconscious processes involved in response preparation (masked priming). The present study asked two questions: (1) Does image similarity influence masking and priming in the same way? (2) Are similarity effects in both tasks governed by the extent of feature overlap in the images or only by task-relevant features? Participants in Experiment 1 classified human faces using a single dimension even though the faces varied in three dimensions (emotion, race, sex). Abstract geometric shapes and colors were tested in the same way in Experiment 2. Results showed that similarity reduced the visibility of the target in the masking task and increased response speed in the priming task, pointing to a double-dissociation between the two tasks. Results also showed that only task-relevant (not objective) similarity influenced masking and priming, implying that both tasks are influenced from the beginning by intentions of the participant. These findings are interpreted within the framework of a reentrant theory of visual perception. They imply that intentions can influence object formation prior to the separation of vision for perception and vision for action.
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