What you saw a while ago determines what you see now: The effect and temporal dynamics of awareness priming on implicit behavior


The perceptual content (e.g., seen a happy vs. seen a sad face) and also subjective visibility (e.g., whether the stimulus is visible or not) of a given (liminal) stimulus is influenced by the history of previously consciously experienced stimuli. This effect on subjective visibility, termed awareness priming, suggests that findings from a large body of literature on unconscious processing might be confounded by conscious awareness. However, those literatures on unconscious processing used implicit behavioral measures of unconscious processing. The challenge is only valid if previous visible stimuli (not just physically salient) also affect implicit behavior, e.g., response priming. Here, we used Continuous Flash Suppression (CFS) to probe the limits and temporal dynamics of awareness priming effect. We showed that prior conscious exposure to two Chinese words increases both visibility and discrimination accuracy, and also improves the response priming of words presented just at the visibility threshold. A correlation analysis revealed that this effect is only driven by the high visibility of the previous stimuli but not high physical saliency. Our results strongly validated the challenge from awareness priming to the literature on unconscious processing. Moreover, we found a different temporal dynamic for how previous visible exposure to a word affects current perception: previous short-term exposure (1-10 back trials) to a visible word only enhances discrimination accuracy of the same word in the current trial, whereas long-term exposure (10-30 back trials) exclusively elevates visibility. This novel finding suggests that areas higher in the processing hierarchy, with larger temporal receptive field, contribute to consciousness, while areas lower in the cortical hierarchy contribute to objective discrimination. .

Darinka Trübutschek
Darinka Trübutschek
MSCA Research Fellow

I am a cognitive neuroscientist, trying to understand how our brain generates and stores subjective experience. Beyond that, I am also a newly minted mother *2.