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      Can the meaning of multiple words be integrated unconsciously?

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          Abstract

          What are the limits of unconscious language processing? Can language circuits process simple grammatical constructions unconsciously and integrate the meaning of several unseen words? Using behavioural priming and electroencephalography (EEG), we studied a specific rule-based linguistic operation traditionally thought to require conscious cognitive control: the negation of valence. In a masked priming paradigm, two masked words were successively (Experiment 1) or simultaneously presented (Experiment 2), a modifier ('not'/'very') and an adjective (e.g. 'good'/'bad'), followed by a visible target noun (e.g. 'peace'/'murder'). Subjects indicated whether the target noun had a positive or negative valence. The combination of these three words could either be contextually consistent (e.g. 'very bad - murder') or inconsistent (e.g. 'not bad - murder'). EEG recordings revealed that grammatical negations could unfold partly unconsciously, as reflected in similar occipito-parietal N400 effects for conscious and unconscious three-word sequences forming inconsistent combinations. However, only conscious word sequences elicited P600 effects, later in time. Overall, these results suggest that multiple unconscious words can be rapidly integrated and that an unconscious negation can automatically 'flip the sign' of an unconscious adjective. These findings not only extend the limits of subliminal combinatorial language processes, but also highlight how consciousness modulates the grammatical integration of multiple words.

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          Author and article information

          Journal
          Philos. Trans. R. Soc. Lond., B, Biol. Sci.
          Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological sciences
          1471-2970
          0962-8436
          May 5 2014
          : 369
          : 1641
          Affiliations
          [1 ] INSERM, Cognitive Neuroimaging Unit, , Gif-sur-Yvette, France.
          Article
          rstb.2013.0212
          10.1098/rstb.2013.0212
          24639583
          de4911ce-a6e0-4f5a-bc21-d282d9c5fe9a
          History

          consciousness,electroencephalography,negation,subliminal information

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