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Science. 1996 Sep 20;273(5282):1699-702.

Three cognitive markers of unconscious semantic activation.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195, USA.


A "response window" technique is described and used to reliably demonstrate unconscious activation of meaning by subliminal (visually masked) words. Visually masked prime words were shown to influence judged meaning of following target words. This priming-effect marker was used to identify two additional markers of unconscious semantic activation: (i) the activation is very short-lived (the target word must occur within about 100 milliseconds of the subliminal prime); and (ii) unlike supraliminal prime-target pairs, a subliminal pair leaves no memory trace that can be observed in response to the next prime-target pair. Thus, unconscious semantic activation is shown to be a readily reproducible phenomenon but also very limited in the duration of its effect.

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