Psychologists discover we've been underestimating the unconscious mind

(Medical Xpress) -- What does consciousness do? Theories vary, but most neurologists and cognitive psychologists agree that we need awareness for integration. That is, unconscious processing can take in one object or word at a time. But when it comes to pulling together disparate stimuli into a coherent, complex scene, consciousness gets to work.

Now, new research by four Israeli psychologists—Liad Mudrik and Dominique Lamy of Tel Aviv University, and Assaf Breska and Leon Y. Deouell of Hebrew University of Jerusalem—suggests that scientists have been underestimating the abilities of the unconscious mind. “Integration can happen even when we’re unaware of the stimulus,” says Mudrik. “Unconscious processes are much more sophisticated and deeper than was previously believed.”

The findings will be published in the June issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

To test this idea, the researchers put their subjects—18 men and women with normal vision—before a stereoscope, which allows to be introduced to each eye separately. In one eye, “Mondrians”—changing patterns of color blocks—continuously flashed, suppressing perception of other objects. In the other eye the subjects saw images of people interacting with objects. Some scenes were “congruent”: a woman putting food in an oven; a player handling a basketball. Others were “incongruent”: the woman putting a chessboard in the oven; the player holding a watermelon. The pictures were present during the entire viewing, but increased in contrast over several seconds, as the Mondrians grew fuzzier in the background.

The participants were instructed to press one of two buttons as soon as they detected the hemi field, or side of the one eye’s vision, in which the picture appeared. The experimenters compared the time participants took to respond to congruent versus incongruent scenes.

The incongruent scenes broke through the visual noise and came into awareness significantly faster than the congruent ones.

Why? “During unconscious processing, subjects are able to integrate object and background without the need for awareness,” Mudrik explains. “When the integration of the incongruent scene happens, though, it doesn’t make sense.” That’s not a cookie sheet. It’s a chessboard! “Then is recruited to make sense of an integration that does not come out properly.”

The research, says Mudrik, is rich with potential. In terms of theory, it “opens the gate” to a new understanding of the complex functioning of awareness.

But it also has implications for daily life. “These findings give us information about the resources we allocate to everyday actions. Say you are driving and talking on a cell phone. What we’ve shown is that you are doing some unconscious processing; we can perform many quite sophisticated actions at one time.

“But we have to bear in mind that this only works as long as things go according to plan. When things go wrong—say, a child runs into the road—our unconscious system cannot deal with it.” In other words, it’s wise to keep some perceptual resources in reserve for those novel situations, whether they are life threatening or simply weird.


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May 12, 2011
Wasn't really worth reading past the headline

May 12, 2011
Interesting. We can do many difficult things without conscious thought.

They should also look at the ability of the subconscious to solve problems. Not the rapid response of this test, but the ability to work on a problem and produce the answer later. Such as when you cannot put a name to a face and think "I need to know who that is". Sometime later the answer may just pop into awareness because you have been subconsciously working on the problem.

May 12, 2011
Interesting. We can do many difficult things without conscious thought.

They should also look at the ability of the subconscious to solve problems. Not the rapid response of this test, but the ability to work on a problem and produce the answer later. Such as when you cannot put a name to a face and think "I need to know who that is". Sometime later the answer may just pop into awareness because you have been subconsciously working on the problem.


True,DB. I love this kind of research. The sad fact is that most people's minds are so cluttered they don't really get to experience the full potential of the human brain. Too many useless apps running in the background, eating up valuable processing power, if you know what I mean.

May 12, 2011
"Too many useless apps running in the background, eating up valuable processing power,"

Like using a trendy meme to sound like you know what your talking about :)

May 12, 2011
Or the God App. LOL, time to defrag after that one.

May 12, 2011
"Too many useless apps running in the background, eating up valuable processing power,"

Like using a trendy meme to sound like you know what your talking about :)


And you make an assumption about me that's completely baseless, congrats. Having worked as a chef( among other things ) for over 20+ years, I can tell you all about multitasking and parallel processing. Knowing at all times what 10, 20, or 30 people are doing, where they are, and everything else that comes with being a chef only comes from the ability to let the sub take over thinking about certain things, while the pressing priorities are handled by the conscious mind. Of course, most people don't have that ability , do they ?

May 12, 2011
Are you going to tell me next that the brain does not do complex physics and math while I am not thinking about it ?

I wouldn't agree with that at all.

May 12, 2011
Brain activity predicts decisions before they are consciously made.

" When the researchers analysed the data, the earliest signal the team could pick up started seven seconds before the volunteers reported having made their decision. Because of there is a delay of a few seconds in the imaging, this means that the brain activity could have begun as much as ten seconds before the conscious decision. "

http://www.nature...751.html

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No, I haven't been following this area of research for very long, no, not at all.

May 12, 2011
"Unconscious processes are much more sophisticated and deeper than was previously believed."

-So much for free will. So much for knowing fully why we personally ever do, think, or feel anything. Although there is the possibility that technology can augment our knowledge of ourselves through realtime monitoring and processing of our physiological state, and how it may be affecting what we are thinking and feeling at any given moment.

There is still no metaphysical- obviously- but our inclination to perceive it might stem from our suspicion of the power that the unconscious wields over us. We get ideas; premonitions; urges; notions; from somewhere. This may just be our unconscious mind throwing suggestions at us based on conclusions it has reached which we have not.

Let me just restate- There is no Free Will. And not because of predeterminism, but because of the evolutionary nature of our animal brains and the specific ways in which they function.

May 12, 2011
Let me just restate- There is no Free Will. And not because of predeterminism, but because of the evolutionary nature of our animal brains and the specific ways in which they function.


Sure there is. We make conscious decisions all the time.

We have been down this road before and I know I cannot convince you of free will, but it is obvious that you make many conscious choices every day.

May 13, 2011
Let me just restate- There is no Free Will. And not because of predeterminism, but because of the evolutionary nature of our animal brains and the specific ways in which they function.


Not quite sure how you came to this conclusion. The unconscious mind is based on what you've learned. All of our ideas, urges, notions, etc do come from somewhere, the reason why people come to different conclusions on these things are from their own past experiences, something they learned consciously. We may not remember the specific events that caused it, but they are there.

When a person is driving, and has for years, if they are deep in conscious thought they sometimes can have a moment of "How'd I get here?" This is because after years of doing the same thing over and over their unconscious was able to handle the driving. What this article is saying is, if a child or something unusual happens while driving the conscious mind needs to take over to properly handle the anomaly.

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