Masked priming is a commonly used technique in psycholinguistics to investigate how words are stored in our Mental Lexicon. This technique, developed by Forster & Davis (1984), investigates the effect of one word on another without participants’ awareness. Preceding a target in uppercase, a prime in lowercase is presented for a very short duration. Participants have to respond to the target, but the prime, which cannot be seen consciously, can influence the processing of the target. An existing prime-target connection (cat-DOG) causes faster responses than when there is no connection (hat-DOG), because the related prime preactivates the target in our mental lexicon. This is the general assumption. In several publications, Bodner and Masson criticized this interpretation. They claim that the prime creates a trace in episodic memory and that the target is not preactivated by the prime. Instead an unconscious checking mechanism detects that the target is related to the prime, causing faster responses. Hence, priming effects inform us on episodic memory instead of the mental lexicon. If masked priming data provide more information on episodic representations than on lexical ones, many research findings have to be revised. The purpose of this project is to find out whether Bodner & Masson's view can be upheld. The general rationale that will guide all experiments is the question whether masked priming effects activate episodic memory traces when access to lexical memory (the mental lexicon) is sufficient for performing the experimental task. This general question will be approached in two ways: (i) can masked primes access episodic traces that were created in a training phase prior to the experiment and (ii) do masked primes themselves leave episodic traces?
Kenneth Forster, University of Arizona
FWO, Fonds Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek - Research Foundation Flanders