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Understanding your Mind - Conscious and Unconscious Processing

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Duke University researchers John W. Payne, Adriana Samper, James R.

Conscious vs. subconscious thinking

Bettman and Mary Frances Luce had volunteers participate in a lottery choice task, where they had to pick from four various options, each with a different, but close, payoff. The volunteers were divided into three groups for this task: one group was instructed to think about the task for a given amount of time, another group was told to think about the task for as long as they wanted and the last group was distracted before making their selection thus, unconsciously thinking about the task.

A second experiment was similarly set up, except that there were substantial differences in the payoffs of the different options. The researchers found that there are situations where unconscious thought will not result in the best choice being selected. The findings showed that in some instances when the payoffs were similar , thinking about the task for as long as it takes to make a decision was as effective as unconscious thought, resulting in the most profitable options being chosen.

However, when there were large differences in the amount of money to be won, mulling over the decision at their own pace led the volunteers to larger payoffs than unconscious thought. For reasons unknown, in intentional binding , the perceived elapsed time between a voluntary action and its consequence is shorter than the actual time span Haggard et al. Thus, when striking a bell voluntarily, the experiences of striking the bell and of hearing the gong of the bell are perceived to occur more closely together in time than they actually did.

Another property of action-related consciousness arises in the paradigm of binocular rivalry see Logothetis article. In this paradigm see review in Alais and Blake, , participants are first trained to respond in certain ways when presented with visual stimuli e. After training, a different stimulus is presented to each eye e. Surprisingly, the participant does not consciously perceive both objects e. The mind's process of switching dominance between each eye can be manipulated in interesting ways.

Maruya et al. Rivalry stimuli consisted of a radial grating resembling the pattern on a dart board and a rotating sphere that was transparent and defined solely by dots. Prior to test, participants learned to move a computer mouse in a continuous left-to-right motion. Participants later performed this motion under conditions of rivalry. Consistent with the finding by Maruya et al.

Additional evidence stems from a recent study showing that entry of any kind may require a top-down signal from frontal cortex; Boly et al. When popularizing this theory, William James proposed that the mere thoughts of actions produce impulses that, if not curbed or controlled by thoughts of incompatible actions, result in the performance of the imagined actions see Marien et al.

From this view, activating the perceptual effects of an action leads to the corresponding action—effortlessly and without awareness of the motor programs involved Gray, ; Kunde, The representations guiding action production tend to be perceptual-like images of action outcomes Hommel, , which are based on memories of prior action outcomes see, in this issue, Marien et al.

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Consistent with ideomotor theory, during conflicts such as those of the Stroop task, it is perceptual-like representations that are activated to guide action Enger and Hirsch, Thus, entry from action in Maruya et al. As noted, some ideomotor models propose that perceptual action effects and action codes share the same representational format, hence the description of some ideomotor accounts as common code theories of perception-and-action Hommel, Such common code perspectives resemble mirror neuron approaches Rizzolatti et al.

For a treatment of action simulation, see, in this issue, Springer et al.

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Similarly, speaking about the interconnection between perception and action, Sperry proposed that the phenomenal percept e. Our survey and the following articles reveal that one of the primary reasons to study consciousness by way of action control is that the contrast between conscious and unconscious processes is easy to appreciate from an action-based standpoint.

It is important to consider that, though it is far from trivial to demonstrate unconscious perceptual processing—a controversial phenomenon whose study often requires neuroimaging and sophisticated techniques e. Stumbling upon this contrast between conscious and unconscious processes is not only uncontroversial in the study of action but is inevitable.

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In addition, it is more experimentally tractable to study the relationship between action and consciousness than that between attention and consciousness the traditional approach; cf. Last, what Sperry noted in about action is still true: The outputs of a system reveal more about the inner workings of the system than do the inputs to the system. The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.

We would like to thank Professor Lorenza Colzato, Professor Bernhard Hommel, and the editorial staff at Frontiers in Cognition for giving us the honor of serving as editors of this special issue and for assisting us throughout the entire editorial process.

Unconscious Mind

We are also indebted to the contributors of the special volume. They have shared with us and the readership of Frontiers in Cognition theoretical and empirical advancements that will be studied for years to come. National Center for Biotechnology Information , U. Journal List Front Psychol v. Front Psychol.

Unconscious Mind

Published online Sep Andrew Poehlman 3. Andrew Poehlman. Author information Article notes Copyright and License information Disclaimer. This article was submitted to Cognition, a section of the journal Frontiers in Psychology. Received Aug 13; Accepted Aug Keywords: action, consciousness, unconscious processing, voluntary action, perception-and-action. The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author s or licensor are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice.

No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms. This article has been cited by other articles in PMC. Consciousness and action Although theorists have long appreciated that consciousness is intimately related to action James, ; Neumann, ; Allport, ; Hamker, ; Morsella, ; Baddeley, , until recently there has been a substantial gap in our knowledge regarding how action-related processes influence consciousness. Unconscious processing in action control Investigations on consciousness and action control have revealed that many sophisticated aspects of action production can or do occur unconsciously Bargh and Morsella, ; Morsella and Bargh, ; see Panagiotaropoulos et al.

Paradigms illuminating the liaison between consciousness and action control The Stroop task is one of many response interference paradigms see, in this issue, articles by Anguera et al. Conscious aspects of action control An appreciation of all that can transpire unconsciously during action control leads one to the following question.

Conclusion to the introduction of the special issue on consciousness and action control Our survey and the following articles reveal that one of the primary reasons to study consciousness by way of action control is that the contrast between conscious and unconscious processes is easy to appreciate from an action-based standpoint. Conflict of interest statement The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.

Acknowledgments We would like to thank Professor Lorenza Colzato, Professor Bernhard Hommel, and the editorial staff at Frontiers in Cognition for giving us the honor of serving as editors of this special issue and for assisting us throughout the entire editorial process. Footnotes 1 Consider that the artificial heart is very different from its natural counterpart and that the difference between human locomotion and artificial locomotion is a stark one—that between legs versus wheels. References Agnew C. Binocular Rivalry.

Visual attention , in Foundations of Cognitive Science , Vol. Behavior-Based Robotics. Distilling the neural correlates of consciousness. A Cognitive Theory of Consciousness. Some essential differences between consciousness and attention, perception, and working memory. The function of consciousness: reply. Trends Neurosci. The conscious access hypothesis: origins and recent evidence. Trends Cogn. Global workspace theory of consciousness: toward a cognitive neuroscience of human experience. Brain Res. Working Memory. Working Memory, Thought and Action.

Oxford: Oxford University Press; Cortical populations and behavior: Hebb's thread. Proprioception contributes to the sense of agency during visual observation of hand movements: evidence from temporal judgments of action. The unconscious mind. Understanding motor awareness through normal and pathological behavior. Why can't you tickle yourself? Neuroreport 3 , R11—R16 Dissociations of language functions in aphasics with speech automatisms recurring utterances.

Cortex 26 , 41—63 Textbook of Psychiatry. Preserved feedforward but impaired top-down processes in the vegetative state. Science , — Nature , Gesturing and naming: the use of functional knowledge in object identification. Neural correlates of reaching decisions in dorsal premotor cortex: specification of multiple direction choices and final selection of action. Neuron 45 , — Is seeing all it seems? Action, reason and the grand illusion. On the control of automatic processes: a parallel distributed processing account of the Stroop effect.

The phenomenology of agency and intention in the face of paralysis and insentience. Are we aware of neural activity in primary visual cortex? Nature , — A framework for consciousness. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. Time-locked multiregional retroactivation: a systems-level proposal for the neural substrates of recall and recognition. Cognition 33 , 25—62 Evolutionary psychology: the wheat and the chaff.

Towards a cognitive neuroscience of consciousness: basic evidence and a workspace framework. Cognition 79 , 1—37 Brain dynamics underlying the nonlinear threshold for access to consciousness. PLoS Biol. Movement intention after parietal cortex stimulation in humans. When in doubt, do it both ways: brain evidence of the simultaneous activation of conflicting responses in a spatial Stroop task.

Competition for consciousness among visual events: the psychophysics of reentrant visual pathways. Rhythms of consciousness: binocular rivalry reveals large-scale oscillatory network dynamics mediating visual perception. Ictal singing due to left frontal lobe epilepsy: a case report and review of the literature. Epilepsy Behav. Who is causing what? The sense of agency is relational and efferent triggered. Cognition , — Cognitive control mechanisms resolve conflict through cortical amplification of task-relevant information. Effects of noise letters upon the identification of a target letter in a nonsearch task.

Information processing in visual search: a continuous flow conception and experimental results. Visual awareness and the online modification of action. Efference and the conscious experience of perception. Why wearing a heavy backpack doesn't—and couldn't —make hills look steeper. The effects of alerting signals in masked priming. Limited conscious monitoring of motor performance in normal subjects. Neuropsychologia 36 , — The physiology of perception. Abnormalities in the awareness and control of action. Cortex and Mind: Unifying Cognition.

The perception of motor commands or effort during muscular paralysis. Brain , — Top-down suppression deficit underlies working memory impairment in normal aging. Unifying prefrontal cortex function: executive control, neural networks and top-down modulation , in The Human Frontal Lobes: Functions and Disorders , eds Miller B. Spatial coding of movement: a hypothesis concerning the coding of movement direction by motor cortical populations. The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception.

Homing in on the brain mechanisms linked to consciousness: buffer of the perception-and-action interface , in The Unity of Mind, Brain and World: Current Perspectives on a Science of Consciousness , eds Pereira A. Understanding recovery from object substitution masking. Ever since Darwin: Reflections in Natural History. The contents of consciousness: a neuropsychological conjecture.

Brain Sci. Consciousness: Creeping up on the Hard Problem. Awareness of space. Sensory feedback mechanisms in performance control: with special reference to the ideomotor mechanism. Measuring individual differences in implicit cognition: the implicit association test.

The link between brain learning, attention, and consciousness. In a sense, this view places the conscious self as an adversary to its unconscious, warring to keep the unconscious hidden. Unconscious thoughts are not directly accessible to ordinary introspection , but are supposed to be capable of being "tapped" and "interpreted" by special methods and techniques such as meditation, free association a method largely introduced by Freud , dream analysis, and verbal slips commonly known as a Freudian slip , examined and conducted during psychoanalysis.

Seeing as these unconscious thoughts are normally cryptic, psychoanalysts are considered experts in interpreting their messages. Freud based his concept of the unconscious on a variety of observations. For example, he considered "slips of the tongue" to be related to the unconscious in that they often appeared to show a person's true feelings on a subject. For example, "I decided to take a summer curse". This example shows a slip of the word "course" where the speaker accidentally used the word curse which would show that they have negative feelings about having to do this.

Freud noticed that also his patient's dreams expressed important feelings they were unaware of.

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After these observations, he came to the conclusion that psychological disturbances are largely caused by personal conflicts existing at the unconscious level. His psychoanalytic theory acts to explain personality, motivation and mental disorders by focusing on unconscious determinants of behavior. Freud later used his notion of the unconscious in order to explain certain kinds of neurotic behavior. Carl Gustav Jung, a Swiss psychiatrist , developed the concept further. He agreed with Freud that the unconscious is a determinant of personality, but he proposed that the unconscious be divided into two layers: the personal unconscious and the collective unconscious.

The personal unconscious is a reservoir of material that was once conscious but has been forgotten or suppressed, much like Freud's notion. The collective unconscious, however, is the deepest level of the psyche, containing the accumulation of inherited psychic structures and archetypal experiences. Archetypes are not memories but energy centers or psychological functions that are apparent in the culture's use of symbols. The collective unconscious is therefore said to be inherited and contain material of an entire species rather than of an individual. In addition to the structure of the unconscious, Jung differed from Freud in that he did not believe that sexuality was at the base of all unconscious thoughts.

The Preconscious, Conscious, and Unconscious Minds

Franz Brentano rejected the concept of the unconscious in his book Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint , although his rejection followed largely from his definitions of consciousness and unconsciousness. Jean-Paul Sartre offers a critique of Freud's theory of the unconscious in Being and Nothingness , based on the claim that consciousness is essentially self-conscious. Sartre also argues that Freud's theory of repression is internally flawed.

Philosopher Thomas Baldwin argues that Sartre's argument is based on a misunderstanding of Freud. Erich Fromm contends that, "The term 'the unconscious' is actually a mystification even though one might use it for reasons of convenience, as I am guilty of doing in these pages. There is no such thing as the unconscious; there are only experiences of which we are aware, and others of which we are not aware, that is, of which we are unconscious. If I hate a man because I am afraid of him, and if I am aware of my hate but not of my fear, we may say that my hate is conscious and that my fear is unconscious; still my fear does not lie in that mysterious place: 'the' unconscious.

John Searle has offered a critique of the Freudian unconscious. He argues that the Freudian cases of shallow, consciously held mental states would be best characterized as 'repressed consciousness,' while the idea of more deeply unconscious mental states is more problematic. He contends that the very notion of a collection of "thoughts" that exist in a privileged region of the mind such that they are in principle never accessible to conscious awareness, is incoherent. This is not to imply that there are not "nonconscious" processes that form the basis of much of conscious life.

Rather, Searle simply claims that to posit the existence of something that is like a "thought" in every way except for the fact that no one can ever be aware of it can never, indeed, "think" it is an incoherent concept. To speak of "something" as a "thought" either implies that it is being thought by a thinker or that it could be thought by a thinker. Processes that are not causally related to the phenomenon called thinking are more appropriately called the nonconscious processes of the brain.

David Holmes [38] examined sixty years of research about the Freudian concept of "repression", and concluded that there is no positive evidence for this concept. Given the lack of evidence for many Freudian hypotheses, some scientific researchers proposed the existence of unconscious mechanisms that are very different from the Freudian ones. In modern cognitive psychology, many researchers have sought to strip the notion of the unconscious from its Freudian heritage, and alternative terms such as "implicit" or "automatic" have been used.

These traditions emphasize the degree to which cognitive processing happens outside the scope of cognitive awareness, and show that things we are unaware of can nonetheless influence other cognitive processes as well as behavior. In terms of the unconscious, the purpose of dreams, as stated by Freud , is to fulfill repressed wishes through the process of dreaming, since they cannot be fulfilled in real life.

For example, if someone were to rob a store and to feel guilty about it, they might dream about a scenario in which their actions were justified and renders them blameless. Freud asserted that the wish-fulfilling aspect of the dream may be disguised due to the difficulty in distinguishing between manifest content and latent content.

The manifest content consists of the plot of a dream at the surface level. The latent content of the dream is what supports the idea of wish fulfillment. It represents the intimate information in the dreamer's current issues and childhood conflict. In response to Freud's theory on dreams, other psychologists have come up with theories to counter his argument. Theorist Rosalind Cartwright proposed that dreams provide people with the opportunity to act out and work through everyday problems and emotional issues in a non-real setting with no consequences.

According to her cognitive problem solving view, a large amount of continuity exists between our waking thought and the thoughts that exist in dreams. Proponents of this view believe that dreams allow participation in creative thinking and alternate ways to handle situations when dealing with personal issues because dreams are not restrained by logic or realism. In addition to this, Allan Hobson and colleagues came up with the activation-synthesis hypothesis which proposes that dreams are simply the side effects of the neural activity in the brain that produces beta brain waves during REM sleep that are associated with wakefulness.

According to this hypothesis, neurons fire periodically during sleep in the lower brain levels and thus send random signals to the cortex. The cortex then synthesizes a dream in reaction to these signals in order to try to make sense of why the brain is sending them. However, the hypothesis does not state that dreams are meaningless, it just downplays the role that emotional factors play in determining dreams.

What is the difference between the conscious and unconscious mind? | Emotions - Sharecare

While, historically, the psychoanalytic research tradition was the first to focus on the phenomenon of unconscious mental activity, there is an extensive body of conclusive research and knowledge in contemporary cognitive psychology devoted to the mental activity that is not mediated by conscious awareness. Most of that cognitive research on unconscious processes has been done in the mainstream, academic tradition of the information processing paradigm. As opposed to the psychoanalytic tradition, driven by the relatively speculative in the sense of being hard to empirically verify theoretical concepts such as the Oedipus complex or Electra complex , the cognitive tradition of research on unconscious processes is based on relatively few theoretical assumptions and is very empirically oriented i.

Cognitive research has revealed that automatically, and clearly outside of conscious awareness, individuals register and acquire more information than what they can experience through their conscious thoughts. See Augusto, , for a recent comprehensive survey. For example, an extensive line of research conducted by Hasher and Zacks [52] has demonstrated that individuals register information about the frequency of events automatically i.

Moreover, perceivers do this unintentionally, truly "automatically," regardless of the instructions they receive, and regardless of the information processing goals they have.