Visible homonyms are ambiguous, subliminal homonyms are not: A close look at priming

Consciousness and Cognition 20 (4):1327-1343 (2011)
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Homonyms, i.e. ambiguous words like ‘score’, have different meanings in different contexts. Previous research indicates that all potential meanings of a homonym are first accessed in parallel before one of the meanings is selected in a competitive race. If these processes are automatic, these processes of selection should even be observed when homonyms are shown subliminally. This study measured the time course of subliminal and supraliminal priming by homonyms with a frequent and a rare meaning in a neutral context, using a lexical decision task. In the subliminal condition, priming across prime-target asynchronies ranging from 100 ms to 1.5 s indicated that the dominant meaning of homonyms was facilitated and the subordinate meaning was inhibited. This indicates that selection of meaning was much faster with subliminal presentation than with supraliminal presentation. Awareness of a prime might decelerate an otherwise rapid selection process



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