Object substitution masking interferes with semantic processing: Evidence from event-related potentials

  • Reiss J
  • Hoffman J
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Object substitution masking (OSM) refers to impaired target identification caused by common onset, but delayed offset, of a surrounding dot mask. This effect has been hypothesized to reflect reentrant processes that result in the mask replacing the target representation. However, little is known about the depth of processing associated with masked targets in this paradigm. We investigated this issue by examining the effect of OSM on the N400 component of the event-related potential, which reflects the degree of semantic mismatch between a target and its context. Participants read a context word followed by a semantically related or unrelated target word surrounded by dots. As expected, delayed dot offset significantly reduced accuracy in identifying the target. The N400 amplitude was also diminished by OSM. These findings offer the first evidence that substitution interferes with target processing prior to semantic analysis, demonstrating an important difference between OSM and other visual phenomena, such as the attentional blink, in which semantic processing is independent of awareness.

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  • Jason E. Reiss

  • James E. Hoffman

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