The Influences of Preparation on the Priming of Response Rules

Miles, James David, Department of Psychology, University of Virginia
Dan, Department of Psychology, University of Virginia
Proffitt, Dennis, Department of Psychology, University of Virginia

Many areas of study within psychology have historically relied on a dissociation between consciously controlled, willfully driven behaviors and behaviors that are driven by unconsious, automatic mental processing systems. In many cases, it is further assumed that consciously controlled and automatic processes can both contribute to a single behavior, and that they are functionally independent and cannot directly influence one another. For example, driving a car relies on both consciously attending to staying within the speed limit and the automatic, trained associations between pressing the right footpedal and increasing speed and the left footpedal and decreasing speed. Although automatic and controlled processes generally appear to function independently from one another, there may be special exceptions to this rule. Exploration of these exceptions might allow for a better understanding of how these separate systems coordinate the performance of a single action. In the current experiments, we demonstate a special circumstance under which conscious thought processes directly influence that automatic system and propose specific boundary conditions under which this may occur. Experiments 1 and 2 demonstrate that conscious preparation for an upcoming task suppresses the automatic influence of a prior task response when both of the following conditions are met: 1) preparation includes the selection of a response for an anticipated task, and 2) the previously performed task and the prepared task use conflicting response rules. Experiment 3 futher supports this hypothesis by showing that suppression of the prior response influence occurs when participants prepare a conflicting response rule but Preparation and Priming ii actually use the same response rules as the previous task. Subsequent experiments further investigate the time course of the suppression of prior response influences (Experiment 4) and the nature of the conflict between conscious and automatic influences (Experiment 5). The results of this series of experiments suggest that conscious and automatic processes do not always operate fully independently of one another, and that under specific circumstances conscious preparation for an upcoming task can modulate the influence of prior responses on subsequent task performance.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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