Increased sensory evidence reverses nonconscious priming during crowding
Sensory adaptation reflects the fact that the responsiveness of a perceptual system changes after the processing of a specific stimulus. Two manifestations of this property have been used in order to infer the mechanisms underlying vision: priming, in which the processing of a target is facilitated by prior exposure to a related adaptor, and habituation, in which this processing is hurt by overexposure to an adaptor. In the present study, we investigated the link between priming and habituation by measuring how sensory evidence (short vs. long adaptor exposure) and perceptual awareness (discriminable vs. undiscriminable adaptor stimulus) affects the adaptive response on a related target. Relying on gaze-contingent crowding, we manipulated independently adaptor discriminability and adaptor duration and inferred sensory adaptation from reaction times on the discrimination of a subsequent oriented target. When adaptor orientation was undiscriminable, we found that increasing its duration reversed priming into habituation. When adaptor orientation was discriminable, priming effects were larger after short exposure, but increasing adaptor duration led to a decrease of priming instead of a reverse into habituation. We discuss our results as reflecting changes in the temporal dynamics of angular orientation processing, depending on the mechanisms associated with perceptual awareness and attentional amplification.