Semantic processing of unattended parafoveal words

Enrico Di Pace, Anna Maria Longoni, Pierluigi Zoccolotti

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The influence that a context word presented either foveally or parafoveally, may exert on the processing of a subsequent target word was studied in a semantic decision task. Fourteen subjects participated in the experiment. They were presented with word-nonword pairs (prime). One member of the pair (which the subjects had to attend to) appeared centrally, the other parafoveally. The prime was followed by a target at two inter-stimulus intervals (ISI; 200 and 2000 msec). The word stimulus of the pair could be semantically related or unrelated to the target. The subjects' task was to classify the target as animal or not animal by pressing one of two buttons as quickly as possible. When the target word was semantically associated with the foveal (attended) word the reaction times were faster for both ISIs; when it was associated with the parafoveal (unattended) word in the prime pair, there were facilitatory effects only in the short ISI condition. A second experiment was run in order to evaluate the possibility that the obtained results were due to identification of the parafoveal stimulus. The same prime-target pairs of experiment 1 (without the target stimuli) were used. The prime-target pairs were presented to fourteen subjects who were requested to name the foveal (attended) stimulus and subsequently, if possible, the parafoveal (unattended) one. Even in this condition, percentage of identification of the unattended word was only 15%, suggesting that previous findings were not due to identification of unattended stimuli. Results are discussed in relation to Posner and Snyder's (1975) dual coding theory.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)21-34
Number of pages14
JournalActa Psychologica
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1991

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology


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