B or 13? Unconscious Top-Down Contextual Effects at the Categorical but Not the Lexical Level

Dan Biderman, Yarden Shir, Liad Mudrik*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Contextual effects require integration of top-down predictions and bottom-up visual information. Given the widely assumed link between integration and consciousness, we asked whether contextual effects require consciousness. In two experiments (total N = 60), an ambiguous stimulus (which could be read as either B or 13) was presented alongside masked numbers (12 and 14) or letters (A and C). Context biased stimulus classification when it was consciously and unconsciously perceived. However, unconsciously perceived contexts evoked smaller effects. This finding was replicated and generalized into another language in a further experiment (N = 46) using a different set of stimuli, strengthening the claim that symbolic contextual effects can occur without awareness. Moreover, four experiments (total N = 160) suggested that these unconscious effects might be limited to the categorical level (numbers context vs. letters context) and do not extend to the lexical level (words context vs. nonwords context). Taken together, our results suggest that although consciousness may not be necessary for effects that require simple integration or none at all, it is nevertheless required for integration over larger semantic windows.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)663-677
Number of pages15
JournalPsychological Science
Issue number6
StatePublished - 1 Jun 2020


  • Bayesian inference
  • ambiguous objects
  • consciousness
  • integration
  • open data
  • open materials
  • perception
  • preregistered
  • top-down


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