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Correlation analysis to investigate unconscious mental processes: A critical appraisal and mini-tutorial.

Malejka, S; Vadillo, MA; Dienes, Z; Shanks, DR; (2021) Correlation analysis to investigate unconscious mental processes: A critical appraisal and mini-tutorial. Cognition , 212 , Article 104667. 10.1016/j.cognition.2021.104667.

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Abstract

As a method to investigate the scope of unconscious mental processes, researchers frequently obtain concurrent measures of task performance and stimulus awareness across participants. Even though both measures might be significantly greater than zero, the correlation between them might not, encouraging the inference that an unconscious process drives task performance. We highlight the pitfalls of this null-correlation approach and provide a mini-tutorial on ways to avoid them. As reference, we use a recent study by Salvador et al. (2018) reporting a non-significant correlation between the extent to which memory was suppressed by a Think/No-Think cue and an index of cue awareness. In the Null Hypothesis Significance Testing (NHST) framework, it is inappropriate to interpret failure to reject the null hypothesis (i.e., correlation = 0) as evidence for the null. Furthermore, psychological measures are often unreliable, which can dramatically attenuate the size of observed correlations. A Bayesian approach can circumvent both problems and compare the extent to which the data provide evidence for the null versus the alternative hypothesis (i.e., correlation > 0), while considering the usually low reliabilities of the variables. Applied to Salvador et al.'s data, this approach indicates no to moderate support for the claimed unconscious nature of participants' memory-suppression performance-depending on the model of the alternative hypothesis. Hence, more reliable data are needed. When analyzing correlational data, we recommend researchers to employ the Bayesian methods developed here (and made freely available as R scripts), rather than standard NHST methods, to take account of unreliability.

Type: Article
Title: Correlation analysis to investigate unconscious mental processes: A critical appraisal and mini-tutorial.
Location: Netherlands
DOI: 10.1016/j.cognition.2021.104667
Publisher version: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cognition.2021.104667
Language: English
Additional information: This version is the author accepted manuscript. For information on re-use, please refer to the publisher’s terms and conditions.
Keywords: Bayes factor, Correlation attenuation, Measurement error, Memory suppression, Reliability, Unconscious cognition
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > Div of Psychology and Lang Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > Div of Psychology and Lang Sciences > Experimental Psychology
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10128396
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