Extracting probability in the absence of visual awareness

Shao Min Hung*, Daw An Wu, Leslie Escobar, Po Jang Hsieh, Shinsuke Shimojo

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Extracting statistical regularities from the environment is crucial for survival. It allows us to learn cues for where and when future events will occur. Can we learn these associations even when the cues are not consciously perceived? Can these unconscious processes integrate information over long periods of time? We show that human visual system can track the probability of location contingency between an unconscious prime and a conscious target over a period of time of minutes. In a series of psychophysical experiments, we adopted an exogenous priming paradigm and manipulated the location contingency between a masked prime and a visible target (i.e., how likely the prime location predicted the target location). The prime’s invisibility was verified both subjectively and objectively. Although the participants were unaware of both the existence of the prime and the prime-target contingency, our results showed that the probability of location contingency was tracked and manifested in the subsequent priming effect. When participants were first entrained into the fully predictive prime-target probability, they exhibited faster responses to the more predictive location. On the contrary, when no contingency existed between the prime and target initially, participants later showed faster responses to the less predictive location. These results were replicated in two more experiments with increased statistical power and a fine-grained delineation of prime awareness. Together, we report that the human visual system is capable of tracking unconscious probability over a period of time, demonstrating how implicit and uncertain regularity guides behavior.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)620-630
Number of pages11
JournalCognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2023 Jun


  • Consciousness
  • Probability
  • Uncertainty
  • Unconscious processing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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