ISSN 0439-755X
CN 11-1911/B

Acta Psychologica Sinica ›› 2016, Vol. 48 ›› Issue (11): 1370-1378.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1041.2016.01370

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The mechanism of the effect of task setting on negative compatibility effect: The effect of top-down cognition control on subliminal prime processing

WANG Jiaying1; JIAO Runkai1; ZHANG Ming2   

  1. (1 School of Psychology, Northeast Normal University, Changchun 130024, China) (2 Department of Psychology, Soochow University, Suzhou 215123, China)
  • Received:2015-07-15 Online:2016-11-25 Published:2016-11-25
  • Contact: ZHANG Ming, E-mail:


Negative Compatibility Effect (NCE) is the surprising result that the masked prime arrows inhibit the responses to compatible target arrows and facilitate the responses to opposite target arrows when the prime-target Inter-Stimulus-Interval (ISI) is between 100ms and 150ms in the masked prime paradigm. The theoretical argument is mainly about whether the origin of NCE is perceptual or reactive. But almost all the theories considered that subliminal information processing was automatic and can not be regulated by top-down cognition control process. However, recent studies showed that NCE can be affected by task setting, which is considered as a Top-down cognitive control processing. How does the task setting affect NCE? The Effect of top-down cognitive control on NCE might happen at the subliminal prime information processing stage or at the reaction stage. Therefore, this study manipulated task setting to explore the mechanism of the effect of top-down cognitive control processes on NCE. The research combined masked prime paradigm and Go-NoGo paradigm to investigate the effects and mechanism of task setting on NCE. Eighteen students participated in the study. The experiment adopted classical NCE procedure and stimulus. Primes were double arrows pointed either to left or right, the mask was composed of two double arrows (one pointed to the left and other to the right). Targets were characters or double arrows in Go condition, either compatible or incompatible to the prime. Participants were instructed to response to the arrows or the characters by pressing the left or right arrow keys on keyboard in Go condition. There’s no target in NoGo condition. Reaction times and accuracies were analyzed with a 2 (compatibility) × 2 (task setting) analyses of variance (ANOVA). Behavior data showed that the main effects of compatibility and task setting and the interaction between them were significant. Further analyses on interaction showed that NCE was significant only in the arrow target condition, in which prime is related to task setting and there was no significant effect in the character target condition, in which prime is not related to task setting. ERP waveform analyses revealed that P3 latency is longer in compatibility condition than in incompatibility condition only when the targets were arrows, which means that P3 is only longer in the compatibility condition when prime is related to the task setting in the Go trials. Mean amplitude of P3 has a significant difference between arrow target condition and character target condition in the NoGo trials. The results suggest that task setting has effect on the NCE through the top-down cognition control process. The cognitive control system regulates the top-down cognitive process according to the task requirements, which impacts on the subliminal prime information processing.

Key words: negative compatibility effect, task setting, top-down cognitive control process, subliminal priming information processing