Analytic limitations of unconscious language processing
Cognitive theorists have traditionally assumed that, due to analytic limitations, unconscious cognitive systems play only a minor role in language comprehension relative to conscious systems. The following research sought to determine whether the analytic powers of unconscious cognition include the ability to parse multimorphemic words and simple syntactic constructions. Four experiments used variations of a two-choice, subliminal priming paradigm (Greenwald, Draine, & Abrams, 1996) to assess unconscious processing of (1) grammatically uncombinable word pairs, (2) two-word grammatical negations, (3) one-word lexical negations, and (4) compound words and noun phrases. Results of Experiments 1 and 2 demonstrated unconscious sensitivity to the meanings of the separate constituents of word pairs, but not to phrase-level meanings. Results of Experiment 3 showed weak evidence for unconscious processing of lexical negation. In Experiment 4, although priming effects were obtained for supraliminal noun phrases and compound words, subliminal conditions showed no evidence for unconscious processing of the primes. The findings indicate that unconscious linguistic analysis is limited to activation of stored semantic representations of single, morphologically simple words. Semantic representations of phrases and morphologically complex words, in contrast, must be constructed and processed by conscious cognitive systems.
- Psychology