A direct comparison of unconscious face processing under masking and interocular suppression
Different combinations of forward and backward masking as well as interocular suppression have been used extensively to render stimuli invisible and to study those aspects of visual stimuli that are processed in the absence of conscious experience. Although the two techniques-masking vs. interocular suppression-obviously differ both in their applications and mechanisms, only little effort has been made to compare them systematically. Yet, such a comparison is crucial: existing discrepancies in the extent of unconscious processing inferred from these two techniques must be reconciled, as our understanding of unconscious vision should be independent of the technique used to prevent visibility. Here, we studied similarities and differences between faces rendered invisible by masking vs. interocular suppression using a priming paradigm. By carefully equating stimulus strength across the two techniques, we analyzed the effects of face primes with the same viewpoint (repetition priming, Experiment 1) and of face primes with a different viewpoint (identity priming, Experiment 2) on the reaction times for a fame categorization task. Overall, we found that the magnitude of both repetition and identity priming largely depended on stimulus visibility. Moreover, when the primes were subjectively invisible, both repetition and identity priming were found to be qualitatively stronger under masking than under interocular suppression. Taken together, these results help refine our understanding of which level of visual processing each technique disrupts, and illustrate the importance of systematic methodological comparisons in the field of unconscious vision.