Winkielman, P., Zajonc, R. B., & Schwarz, N. (1997). Subliminal affective priming resists attributional interventions. Cognition and Emotion, 11, 433-465.
We examine two explanations of the subliminal affective priming effect. The feelings-as-information model (Schwarz and Clore, 1988) holds that judgments are based on perceptible feelings. Hence, affective influences depend on the source to which feelings are (mis)attributed. In contrast, the affective primacy hypothesis (Zajonc, 1980) suggests that affective influence should resist attributional interventions. This is because (i) the affective system responsible for preferences is separate from the cognitive system responsible for inferences; (ii) early affective processes are automatic and therefore inaccessible to higher order interventions; and (iii) early affective responses are not represented as conscious feelings. We tested these competing explanations in two experiments that crossed subliminal affective priming with (mis)attribution manipulations. Both studies found reliable shifts in judgments of neutral stimuli as a result of primes even when subjects were aware that their feelings might not be diagnostic for the judgment at hand. Subjects did not report experiencing any feelings in response to the primes. The obtained affective priming effect was independent of response times and subjective reports of engaging in judgmental corrections. However, the priming effect did prove sensitive to the experimental instructions. We discuss the implications of these findings for the affective primacy hypothesis and the feelings-as-information model.