Distinguishing the role of conscious and unconscious knowledge in evaluative conditioning


  • Waroquier Laurent
  • Abadie Marlène
  • Dienes Zoltan


  • Evaluative conditioning
  • Contingency awareness
  • Conscious knowledge
  • Unconscious knowledge
  • Attitude learning

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Evaluative conditioning (EC) refers to a change in liking of a conditioned stimulus (CS) subsequent to its repeated pairing with a valent stimulus (US). Two studies that bring new light on the highly debated question of the role of awareness in EC were conducted. We developed an innovative method motivated by higher order and integration theories of consciousness to distinguish between the role of conscious and unconscious knowledge about the pairings. On each trial of the awareness test, participants had to indicate the valence of the US associated with a given CS and to make a ‘structural knowledge attribution’ by reporting the basis of their response. Valence identification accuracy was used to evaluate knowledge while the knowledge attribution was used to measure the conscious status of knowledge. Memory attribution indicated conscious knowledge about the pairings while feeling-based and random attributions indicated unconscious knowledge. A meta-analysis of the two studies revealed that valence identification accuracy was above chance level for memory and feelingbased attributions but not for the random attribution. EC was found in the three attributions. While EC effect size was medium for the memory attribution it was small for feeling-based and random attributions. Moreover, Experiment 2 included a delayed test. EC was still present 24 hours after the conditioning took place. The results obtained for memory and feeling-based attributions suggest that both conscious and unconscious knowledge may underlie EC. The results obtained for random attribution suggest that EC may also occur without any knowledge of US valence.

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