Individual differences do not mask effects of unconscious processing


A wave of criticisms and replication failures is currently challenging claims about the scope of unconscious perception and cognition. Such failures to find unconscious processing effects at the population level may reflect the absence of individual-level effects, or alternatively, the averaging out of individual-level effects with opposing signs. Importantly, only the first suggests that consciousness may be necessary for the tested process to take place. To arbitrate between these two possibilities, we tested previously collected data where unconscious processing effects were not found (26 effects from 470 participants), using four Bayesian and frequentist tests that are robust to individual differences in effect signs. By and large, we found no reliable evidence for unconscious effects being masked by individual differences. In contrast, when we examined 136 non-significant effects from other domains, a novel non-parametric sign consistency test did reveal effects that were hidden by opposing individual results, though as we show, some of them might be driven by design-related factors. Taken together, four analysis approaches provide strong evidence for the restricted nature of unconscious processing effects not only across participants, but also across different trials within individuals. We provide analysis code and best-practice recommendations for testing for non-directional effects.