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Amanda M. Dawson; Affective priming with masked, complex scenes. Journal of Vision 2001;1(3):296. doi: 10.1167/1.3.296.
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Recent studies of masked, affective priming have postulated that perceptual fluency forms the basis for the transfer of affect between a masked, affective prime and its target (Robinson, 1998). Such automatic processes have also been attributed to Zajonc's mere exposure effect (1992); an improvement in preference for a repeated stimulus has been ascribed to an indiscriminate increase in processing fluency (Bornstein & D'Agostino, 1994; Seamon et al., 1995). Alternatively, it has been suggested that the effects of masked, affective stimuli are the result of a separate, subcortical pathway that is constrained to respond to threatening stimuli (Ohman, 1998; Murphy & Zajonc, 1993; LeDoux, 1996). This study sought to determine which of these two accounts best characterizes the behavioral effects of masked, affective primes. Complex, affective scenes were presented to subjects at varying rates of exposure. Subjects were unable to choose the previously presented stimulus in a 2AFC task when the stimulus was presented at 33-milliseconds with masking. These same brief stimuli, however, were correctly identified in an indirect memory task (simple preference forced-choice) when analyses were separated for positive and negative primes: negative primes were not preferred while positive primes were. This result does not support a simple, perceptual fluency account of masked, affective priming. When the affective scenes were then paired with suprathreshold, neutral Japanese kana characters; subjects exposed to these pairs rated the emotional value of the Japanese kana. Subjects' ratings of the kana significantly reflected the valence of the affective scene primes, regardless of whether the prime was above or below visual recognition thresholds. This affective priming effect occurred for both positively and negatively valenced primes. Such priming for non-threat stimuli is not consistent with Ohman's (1998) formulation of affective, subcortical processing systems.
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