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Subliminal speech perception and auditory streaming.

Current theories of consciousness assume a qualitative dissociation between conscious and unconscious processing: while subliminal stimuli only elicit a transient activity, supraliminal stimuli have long-lasting influences. Nevertheless, the existence of this qualitative distinction remains controversial, as past studies confounded awareness and stimulus strength (energy, duration). Here, we used a masked speech priming method in conjunction with a sub millisecond interaural delay manipulation to contrast subliminal and supraliminal processing at constant prime, mask and target strength. This delay induced a perceptual streaming effect, with the prime popping out in the supraliminal condition. By manipulating the prime-target interval (ISI), we show a qualitatively distinct profile of priming longevity as a function of prime awareness. While subliminal priming disappeared after half a second, supraliminal priming was independent of ISI. This shows that the distinction between conscious and unconscious processing depends on high-level perceptual streaming factors rather than low-level features (energy, duration). (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2010 APA, all rights reserved)