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The reflexive imagery task: An experimental paradigm for neuroimaging

1 Department of Psychology, San Francisco State University, CA, USA
2 Department of Neurology, University of California, San Francisco, CA, USA

High-level cognitions can be triggered into consciousness through the presentation of external stimuli and the activation of certain action sets. These activations arise in a manner that is involuntary, systematic and nontrivial. For example, in the Reflexive Imagery Task (RIT), subjects are presented with visual objects and instructed to not think of the names of the objects. Involuntary subvocalizations arise on roughly 80% of the trials. We review the findings from this paradigm, discuss neural findings that are relevant to the RIT, and present new data that further corroborate the reliability and robustness of the RIT, a paradigm that could be coupled with neuroimaging technologies. We developed an RIT variant in which two, non-focal objects are presented simultaneously. In previous RITs, visual objects were presented only one at a time, in the center of the screen, and subjects were instructed to focus on the center of the screen, where these objects were presented. Replicating the RIT effect, involuntary subvocalizations still occurred on a high proportion of trials (M = 0.78). An RIT effect arose for both objects on a considerable proportion of the trials (M = 0.35). These findings were replicated in a second experiment having a different sample of subjects. Our findings are relevant to many subfields of neuroscience (e.g., the study of high-level mental processes, attention, imagery and action control).
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