The impact of subliminal effect images in voluntary vs. stimulus-driven actions

Solène Le Bars*, Yi Fang Hsu, Florian Waszak

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


According to the ideomotor theory, actions are represented in terms of their sensory effects. In the current study we tested whether subliminal effect images influence action control (1) at early and/or late preparatory stages of (2) voluntary actions or stimulus-driven actions (3) with or without Stimulus-Response (S-R) compatibility. In Experiment 1, participants were presented at random with 50% of S-R compatible stimulus-driven action trials and 50% of voluntary action trials. The actions’ effects (i.e. up- or down-pointing arrows) were presented subliminally before each action (i.e. a keypress). In voluntary actions, participants selected more often the action congruent with the prime when it was presented at long intervals before the action. Moreover they responded faster in prime-congruent than in prime-incongruent trials when primes were presented at short intervals before the action. In Experiment 2, participants were only presented with stimulus-driven action trials, with or without S-R compatibility. In stimulus-driven action trials with S-R compatibility (e.g., left-pointing arrow signaling a left keypress), subliminal action-effects did not generate any significant effect on RTs or error rates. On the other hand, in stimulus-driven action trials without S-R compatibility (e.g., letter “H” signaling a left keypress), participants were significantly faster in prime-congruent trials when primes were presented at the shortest time interval before the action. These results suggest that subliminal effect images facilitate voluntary action preparation on an early and a late level. Stimulus-driven action preparation is influenced on a late level only, and only if there is no compatibility between the stimulus and the motor response, that is when the response is not automatically triggered by the common properties existing between the stimulus and the required action.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)6-15
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - 2016 Nov 1


  • Action stages
  • Effect representation
  • Ideomotor principle
  • Stimulus-driven action
  • Stimulus-response compatibility
  • Subliminal priming
  • Voluntary action

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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