Demonstrating perception without visual awareness: Double dissociations between priming and masking

  • A double dissociation impressively demonstrates that visual perception and visual awareness can be independent of each other and do not have to rely on the same source of information (T. Schmidt & Vorberg, 2006). Traditionally, an indirect measure of stimulus processing and a direct measure of visual awareness are compared (dissociation paradigm or classic dissociation paradigm, Erdelyi, 1986; formally described by Reingold & Merikle, 1988; Merikle & Reingold, 1990; Reingold, 2004). If both measures exhibit opposite time courses, a double dissociation is demonstrated. One tool that is well suited to measure stimulus processing as fast visuomotor response activation is the response priming method (Klotz & Neumann, 1999; Klotz & Wolff, 1995; see also F. Schmidt et al., 2011; Vorberg et al., 2003). Typically, observers perform speeded responses to a target stimulus preceded by a prime stimulus, which can trigger the same motor response by sharing consistent features (e.g., shape) or different responses due to inconsistent features. While consistent features cause speeded motor responses, inconsistent trials can induce response conflicts and result in slowed responses. These response time differences describe the response priming effect (Klotz & Neumann, 1999; Klotz & Wolff, 1995; see also F. Schmidt et al., 2011; Vorberg et al., 2003). The theoretical background of this method forms the Rapid-Chase Theory (T. Schmidt et al., 2006, 2011; see also T. Schmidt, 2014), which assumes that priming is based on neuronal feedforward processing within the visuomotor system. Lamme and Roelfsema (2000; see also Lamme, 2010) claim that this feedforward processing does not generate visual awareness because neuronal feedback and recurrent processes are needed. Fascinatingly, while prime visibility can be manipulated by visual masking techniques (Breitmeyer & Öğmen, 2006), priming effects can still increase over time. Masking effects are used as a direct measure of prime awareness. Based on their time course, type-A and type-B masking functions are distinguished (Breitmeyer & Öğmen, 2006; see also Albrecht & Mattler, 2010, 2012, 2016). Type-A masking is most commonly shown with a typically increasing function over time. In contrast, type-B masking functions are rarely observed, which demonstrate a decreasing or u-shaped time course. This masking type is usually only found under metacontrast backward masking (Breitmeyer & Öğmen, 2006; see also Albrecht & Mattler, 2010, 2012, 2016). While priming effects are expected to increase over time by Rapid-Chase Theory (T. Schmidt et al., 2006, 2011; see also T. Schmidt, 2014), the masking effect can show an opposite trend with a decreasing or u-shaped type-B masking curve, forming a double dissociation. In empirical practice, double dissociations are a rarity, while historically simple dissociations have been the favored data pattern to demonstrate perception without awareness, despite suffering from statistical measurement problems (T. Schmidt & Vorberg, 2006). Motivated by this shortcoming, I aim to demonstrate that a double dissociation is the most powerful and convincing data pattern, which provides evidence that visual perception does not necessarily generate visual awareness, since both processes are based on different neuronal mechanisms. I investigated which experimental conditions allow for a double dissociation between priming and prime awareness. The first set of experiments demonstrated that a double-dissociated pattern between priming and masking can be induced artificially, and that the technique of induced dissociations is of general utility. The second set of experiments used two awareness measures (objective vs. subjective) and a response priming task in various combinations, resulting in different task settings (single-, dual-, triple tasks). The experiments revealed that some task types constitute an unfavorable experimental environment that can prevent a double dissociation from occurring naturally, especially when a pure feedforward processing of the stimuli seems to be disturbed. The present work provides further important findings. First, stimulus perception and stimulus awareness show a general dissociability in most of the participants, supporting the idea that different neuronal processes are responsible for this kind of data pattern. Second, any direct awareness measure (no matter whether objective or subjective) is highly observer-dependent, requiring the individual analysis at the level of single participants. Third, a deep analysis of priming effects at the micro level (e.g., checking for fast errors) can provide further insights regarding information processing of different visual stimuli (e.g., shape vs. color) and under changing experimental conditions (e.g. single- vs. triple tasks).

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Author:Melanie Biafora
Advisor:Thomas Schmidt
Document Type:Doctoral Thesis
Language of publication:English
Publication Date:2022/03/01
Year of Publication:2022
Publishing Institute:Technische Universität Kaiserslautern
Granting Institute:Technische Universität Kaiserslautern
Acceptance Date of the Thesis:2022/02/03
Date of the Publication (Server):2022/03/02
Tag:Double Dissociation; Metacontrast Masking; Rapid-Chase Theory; Response Priming
GND-Keyword:Experimentelle Psychologie
Number of page:VII, 158
Faculties / Organisational entities:Kaiserslautern - Fachbereich Sozialwissenschaften
DDC-Cassification:1 Philosophie und Psychologie / 150 Psychologie
Licence (German):Creative Commons 4.0 - Namensnennung, nicht kommerziell, keine Bearbeitung (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)