Unconscious activation of task sets

Consciousness and Cognition 20 (3):556-567 (2011)
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Abstract

Using an explicit task cuing paradigm, we tested whether masked cues can trigger task-set activation, which would suggest that unconsciously presented stimuli can impact cognitive control processes. Based on a critical assessment of previous findings on the priming of task-set activation, we present two experiments with a new method to approach this subject. Instead of using a prime, we varied the visibility of the cue. These cues either directly signaled particular tasks in Experiment 1, or certain task transitions in Experiment 2. While both masked task and transition cues affected task choice, only task cues affected the speed of task performance. This observation suggests that task-specific stimulus–response rules can be activated only by masked cues that are uniquely associated with a particular task. Taken together, these results demonstrate that unconsciously presented stimuli have the power to activate corresponding task sets

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