Study shows people capable of reading and solving math equations subconsciously

by Bob Yirka report
This is a brain reading under the water surface -- a metaphor for unconscious recognition. Credit: Drawing by Rinat Laor

(Medical Xpress)—Researchers at Hebrew University in Jerusalem have found that contrary to popular thinking, people are capable of reading sentences and solving math problems without consciously thinking about them. The team describes their experiments and results in testing such abilities in their paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Scientists have known for some time that people are capable of reading single words when their mind is elsewhere, but now, new research shows that they are also capable of reading entire and grasping the content of them while their is busy thinking about something else. They've also discovered that people are also capable of solving simple math problems subconsciously.

To come to these conclusions, the team used a technique known as Continues Flash Suppression (CFS) to present target information to volunteer subjects subconsciously. The technique involves displaying target information to one eye while simultaneously displaying colorful images to the other. The colorful images demand so much attention that the target information is not noticed, at least in the conscious mind.

In the first exercise, volunteers were shown short word phrases during a CFS session; some of which made sense some of which were nonsensical. Afterwards, they were asked to recall the phrase. The researchers found that the volunteers were able to recall the nonsensical phrases faster than those that made sense, indicating they had been understood while still in a subconscious state.

In the second exercise, the researchers used CFS to flash a simple plus/minus type , minus the answer, to one eye, while the other received the colorful images. Afterwards, each volunteer was asked to say out loud a number that was presented to them. The researchers found that were shorter when the number shown matched the answer to the math equation they had been shown.

Thus far, CFS is only able to distract the mind from perceiving information for just a couple of seconds, thus, the types of data that can be tested is limited by the amount of information (or its mathematical complexity) that could reasonably be expected to be absorbed in such a short time period. But the results suggest that people might be processing a lot of information in their daily lives that they aren't aware of because their mind is elsewhere, a finding that the researchers suggest, means that views on subconscious awareness and thought processing, perhaps needs updating.

More information: Reading and doing arithmetic nonconsciously, PNAS, Published online before print November 12, 2012, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1211645109

Abstract
The modal view in the cognitive and neural sciences holds that consciousness is necessary for abstract, symbolic, and rule-following computations. Hence, semantic processing of multiple-word expressions, and performing of abstract mathematical computations, are widely believed to require consciousness. We report a series of experiments in which we show that multiple-word verbal expressions can be processed outside conscious awareness and that multistep, effortful arithmetic equations can be solved unconsciously. All experiments used Continuous Flash Suppression to render stimuli invisible for relatively long durations (up to 2,000 ms). Where appropriate, unawareness was verified using both objective and subjective measures. The results show that novel word combinations, in the form of expressions that contain semantic violations, become conscious before expressions that do not contain semantic violations, that the more negative a verbal expression is, the more quickly it becomes conscious, and that subliminal arithmetic equations prime their results. These findings call for a significant update of our view of conscious and unconscious processes.

Press release

Related Stories

Eye movements reveal readers' wandering minds

Aug 30, 2010

It's not just you... everybody zones out when they're reading. For a new study published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, scientists recorded eye movements during reading and fo ...

'Directed thinking' increases time spent exercising

Jun 24, 2008

"Directed Thinking" involves asking people to think about information related to a topic that they already know which directs them to action. A study in the Journal of Applied Biobehavioral Research shows how "directed thinking" ...

Recommended for you

Despite risks, benzodiazepine use highest in older people

5 hours ago

Prescription use of benzodiazepines—a widely used class of sedative and anti-anxiety medications—increases steadily with age, despite the known risks for older people, according to a comprehensive analysis of benzodiazepine ...

Why some antidepressants may initially worsen symptoms

9 hours ago

New research helps explain a paradoxical effect of certain antidepressants—that they may actually worsen symptoms before helping patients feel better. The findings, highlighted in a paper publishing online December 17 in ...

User comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (2) Nov 13, 2012
the researchers used CFS to flash a simple plus/minus type mathematical equation, minus the answer, to one eye, while the other received the colorful images. Afterwards, each volunteer was asked to say out loud a number that was presented to them. The researchers found that response times were shorter when the number shown matched the answer to the math equation they had been shown.

How simple were these equations? If we're talking single to low double digit equations then we're probably not talking about solving mathematical equations but rather about recalling memorized patterns.
Tausch
not rated yet Nov 13, 2012
Subliminal Messages and the Law

The FCC outlawed subliminal messages for both radio and television in 1974. The entire regulation is a short paragraph :

"Subliminal Programming. The FCC sometimes receives complaints regarding the alleged use of subliminal techniques in radio and television programming. Subliminal programming is designed to be perceived on a subconscious level only. The Commission has held that the use of subliminal perception is inconsistent with the obligations of a licensee and contrary to the public interest because, whether effective or not, such broadcasts are intended to be deceptive." (39 Federal Register 3714, January 29, 1974) (Note: The Federal Register prior to 1995 is not available online.)

http://www.infoce...inal.htm
daqman
5 / 5 (2) Nov 13, 2012
I think my son does this. He regularly falls asleep in math classes but still passes the tests...
Tausch
not rated yet Nov 13, 2012
The bending invariant representation is working.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.