In a series of three experiments the influence that information unrecognised by the subjects has on the effectiveness of occurring cognitive activity is studied. With this aim 3 types of stimulus were compared which for one reason or another were not afforded sufficient attention, namely: unconscious meanings of polysemantic information, stimuli presented at the subliminal level, and intentionally ignored distractors. All the listed types of stimuli are united in that the subjects were not able to give an account of them, i.e., these stimuli were not processed attentively. It is assumed that each of the types of stimuli studied is in actuality perceived, which can be judged by the impact they have on occurring cognitive activity. The purpose of the present research is the comparison of this impact: apart from the determination of the impact of unperceived stimuli on the information directly associated with them (priming-effect registration), also identified is the presence/absence of an overall interference effect rendered by the unperceived stimuli on the performance of occurring cognitive activity. To this end, each experiment had a control condition the aim of which was the creation of the possibility for the subjects to perceive stimuli unnoticed under experimental conditions. An experimental priming paradigm was used in combination with image-classification and lexical-decision tasks.
The results of the experiments conducted demonstrate that all types of stimuli ‘slipping the attention’ are assimilated, but their effect on occurring cognitive activity is varied. Thus, subliminally presented information aids, and distractors, on the contrary, hinder the solution of tasks associated with them, whereas unperceived meanings of polysemantic information hinder not only the solution of the tasks directly associated with them, but also the performance of any other cognitive activity for which they serve as a context. The effect of subliminal stimuli on occurring cognitive activity in the present research is explained by the spreading activation in the memory, the effect of distractors – by the inhibition of irrelevant representations in the information-processing system. For an explanation of the consequence of unperceived meanings of polysemanticity, not only an inhibition model was used, but also an unconscious negative choice model which assumed the necessity of making a special decision on non-perception.