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Atten Percept Psychophys. 2014 Feb;76(2):489-507. doi: 10.3758/s13414-013-0580-4.

Seeing is believing: Utilization of subliminal symbols requires a visible relevant context.

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Helmholtz Institute, Department of Experimental Psychology, Utrecht University, Heidelberglaan 2, 3584 CS, Utrecht, The Netherlands,


Sensory input that is not available for conscious report can still affect our behavior. Recent findings suggest that such subliminal information has the potency to influence behavior in a way that is dependent on the observer's current intentions. Here, we investigate whether conscious observation of stimulus relevance provides an incentive for the utilization of nonconscious stimuli. We manipulated the predictive power of directional cues to selectively affect the incentive to utilize them for a subsequent target detection task. Central arrow cues rendered invisible by interocular suppression elicited a facilitatory cuing effect, but only when intermixed with visible arrow cues that were highly predictive with respect to (i.e., 80 % congruent with) the subsequent target location. When the visible cues were nonpredictive (50 % congruent), no subliminal cuing effect was found. An analysis of learning effects corroborates these findings; Cuing effects elicited by both visible and invisible cues increased over the course of the experiment, but only when intermixed visible cues were highly predictive. In a second experiment, we demonstrated that the intrinsic relevance of invisible cues (either 50 % or 100 % congruent) has no effect on the utilization of visible cues. We conclude that conscious perception is required to make statistical inferences about the relevance of symbolic cues. Once statistical information is extracted consciously, it affects subsequent nonconscious processing in a way that fits the current context. Accordingly, one of the possible functions of consciousness could be to extract general rules out of the conscious information, to provide guidelines for future behavior.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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