OPEN Frontiers in behavioral neuroscience | 21 Jun 2013
K Henke, TP Reber and SB Duss
Our knowledge grows as we integrate events experienced at different points in time. We may or may not become aware of events, their integration, and their impact on our knowledge and decisions. But can we mentally integrate two events, if they are experienced at different time points and at different levels of consciousness? In this study, an event consisted of the presentation of two unrelated words. In the stream of events, half of events shared one component (“tree desk” … “desk fish”) to facilitate event integration. We manipulated the amount of time and trials that separated two corresponding events. The contents of one event were presented subliminally (invisible) and the contents of the corresponding overlapping event supraliminally (visible). Hence, event integration required the binding of contents between consciousness levels and between time points. At the final test of integration, participants judged whether two supraliminal test words (“tree fish”) fit together semantically or not. Unbeknown to participants, half of test words were episodically related through an overlap (“desk”; experimental condition) and half were not (control condition). Participants judged episodically related test words to be closer semantically than unrelated test words. This subjective decrease in the semantic distance between test words was both independent of whether the invisible event was encoded first or second in order and independent of the number of trials and the time that separated two corresponding events. Hence, conscious and unconscious memories were mentally integrated into a linked mnemonic representation.
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