Unconsciously Motivated

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Science  12 Jul 2013:
Vol. 341, Issue 6142, pp. 111
DOI: 10.1126/science.341.6142.111-b

Recent energetic discussions in social psychology have focused on methodological aspects of research into unconscious influences on overt behaviors—for example, when participants walk like the elderly after having read passages containing words associated with old age. One consequence of these discussions would be new research programs that advance our understanding of how behavior interacts with cognitive and neural events when participants are unaware. Hepler and Albarracin have entered this arena with a study of how stimuli below the limit of perception can inhibit a behavior (not pressing a button). Without an externally observable outcome, they relied on the amplitude of an event-related brain potential known as the P3 component, which has been shown to index inhibitory control. As their triggers for unconscious processing, they exposed participants to subliminally presented inaction (calm) and action (move) words and ascertained that participants were unaware of these primers. They found that the former set of words increased inhibitory neural activity whereas the latter set decreased it, relative to a control set of neutral words.

Cognition 128, 271 (2013).

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