Mechanisms of Unconscious Priming: I. Response Competition, Not Spreading Activation

Mark R. Klinger, Philip C. Burton, G. Shane Pitts

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

197 Scopus citations


Four experiments were conducted to replicate and expand upon A. G. Greenwald, S. C. Draine, and R. L. Abrams's (1996) demonstration that unconsciously perceived priming words can influence judgments of other words. The present experiments manipulated 2 types of relationships between priming and target stimuli: (a) whether priming and target stimuli possess a preexisting semantic relationship (an affective relationship in Experiments 1, 2, and 4; an associative relationship in Experiment 3; and an animacy relationship in Experiment 4) and (b) whether the primes and targets produce the same response. Large priming effects were found only when the primes and targets possessed response compatibility. No residual effects for affective, animacy, or semantic relatedness were observed. Although these results strongly support the conclusion that word meaning can be unconsciously activated, they do not support the claim that the unconscious perception effects obtained in Greenwald et al.'s (1996) paradigm are caused by automatic spreading activation of word meaning. Instead, the results reported here are consistent with a claim that unconsciously perceived words automatically trigger response tendencies that facilitate or interfere with target responding.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)441-455
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Learning Memory and Cognition
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2000
Externally publishedYes


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