Friday, July 26, 2013

Unconscious activation of our brains' inhibitory controls.

Hepler and Albarracin have done the interesting experiment of exposing participants in an experiment to subliminally presented inaction (calm) and action (move) words, and then ascertaining that participants were unaware of these primers. They subsequently presented the participants with a Go/No-Go task (press a button if you see an "X", don't press it if you see a "Y") and also measured the P3 component of the event-related brain potential known to index inhibitory control. The subliminally presented inaction (calm) and action (move) words increased inhibitory neural activity whereas the latter set decreased it, relative to a control set of neutral words. Here is the author's summary:
-Event-related potentials were recorded during two go/no-go task with subliminal primes
-Subliminal primes related to general concepts of action, inaction, or were controls.
-Inaction/action primes strengthened/weakened inhibitory control mechanisms (ICMs).
-The primes had never been consciously associated with task responses or goals.
-This is the first demonstration that ICMs can operate completely unconsciously.
Although robust evidence indicates that action initiation can occur unconsciously and unintentionally, the literature on action inhibition suggests that inhibition requires both conscious thought and intentionality. In prior research demonstrating automatic inhibition in response to unconsciously processed stimuli, the unconscious stimuli had previously been consciously associated with an inhibitory response within the context of the experiment, and participants had consciously formed a goal to activate inhibition processes when presented with the stimuli (because task instructions required participants to engage in inhibition when the stimuli occurred). Therefore, prior work suggests that some amount of conscious thought and intentionality are required for inhibitory control. In the present research, we recorded event-related potentials during two go/no-go experiments in which participants were subliminally primed with general action/inaction concepts that had never been consciously associated with task-specific responses. We provide the first demonstration that inhibitory control processes can be modulated completely unconsciously and unintentionally.

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