In three experiments, we investigated the effect of unconscious social priming on human behavior in a choice reaction time task. Photographs of a basketball player passing a ball to the left/right were used as target stimuli. Participants had to respond to the pass direction either by a whole-body (complex) response or a button-press (simple) response. Visually masked stimuli, showing both a task-relevant cue (pass direction) and a task-irrelevant, social cue (gaze direction), were used as primes. Subliminal social priming was found for kinematic (center of pressure) and chronometric measures (response times): gaze direction in the primes affected responses to the pass direction in the targets. The social priming effect diminished when gaze information was unhelpful or even detrimental to the task. Social priming of a complex behavior does not require awareness or intentionality, indicating automatic processing. Nevertheless, it can be controlled by top-down, strategic processes.
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