Unconscious preparation: Effects of prime visibility on semantic generalization of task priming

Zher-Wen Au*, Rongjun Yu*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Studies found that subliminal primes can be associated with specific tasks to facilitate task performance, and such learning is highly adaptive and generalizable. Meanwhile, conditioning studies suggest that aversive/reward learning and generalization actually occur at the semantic level. The current study shows that prime–task associations can also be generalized to novel word/neighbour primes from the same semantic category, and this occurs without contingency awareness. Previous studies have counterintuitively suggested that both the learning of task priming and the semantic priming of word neighbours depend on the lack of visibility. Here, we show that semantic generalization indeed depends on reduced visibility, but cannot occur subliminally. The current study shows for the first time that semantic learning and generalization can occur without any emotional or motivational factors, and that semantic priming can occur for arbitrary-linked stimuli in a context completely devoid of semantics.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)835-865
Number of pages31
JournalBritish Journal of Psychology
Issue number4
Early online date29 Mar 2021
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2021

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Psychology(all)

User-Defined Keywords

  • associative learning
  • consciousness
  • generalization
  • inductive reasoning
  • priming
  • semantic
  • subliminal perception
  • unconscious learning


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