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Backward masking has several meanings:
- The original meaning of the term, in psychoacoustics, refers to temporal masking of quiet sounds that occur moments before a louder sound.
- A similar meaning, in use in cognitive psychology, refers to a phenomenon wherein presenting one visual stimulus (a "mask" or "masking stimulus") immediately after another brief (≤ 50 ms) "target" visual stimulus leads to a failure to consciously perceive the first stimulus. A similar phenomenon can occur when a masking stimulus precedes a target stimulus rather than following it: this is known as forward masking.. While not consciously perceived, the masked stimulus can nevertheless still have an effect on cognitive processes such as context interpretation. This phenomenon can notably be used for psychological manipulation (see subliminal messages, psychorama).
- In popular music, "backward masking" incorrectly refers to backmasking, or hiding messages in sound recordings that are audible when played backward.
- Breitmeyer, B.G. and Ogmen, H. (2007) "Visual masking", Scholarpedia, 2(7):3330.