Affect, cognition, and awareness: affective priming with optimal and suboptimal stimulus exposures

J Pers Soc Psychol. 1993 May;64(5):723-39. doi: 10.1037//0022-3514.64.5.723.


The affective primacy hypothesis (R. B. Zajonc, 1980) asserts that positive and negative affective reactions can be evoked with minimal stimulus input and virtually no cognitive processing. The present work tested this hypothesis by comparing the effects of affective and cognitive priming under extremely brief (suboptimal) and longer (optimal) exposure durations. At suboptimal exposures only affective primes produced significant shifts in Ss' judgments of novel stimuli. These results suggest that when affect is elicited outside of conscious awareness, it is diffuse and nonspecific, and its origin and address are not accessible. Having minimal cognitive participation, such gross and nonspecific affective reactions can therefore be diffused or displaced onto unrelated stimuli. At optimal exposures this pattern of results was reversed such that only cognitive primes produced significant shifts in judgments. Together, these results support the affective primacy hypothesis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Affect*
  • Attention*
  • Awareness*
  • Cognition*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Recall
  • Set, Psychology