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Unconscious Mind

  1. Ezequiel Morsella1,
  2. John A. Bargh2

Published Online: 30 JAN 2010

DOI: 10.1002/9780470479216.corpsy1016

Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology

Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology

How to Cite

Morsella, E. and Bargh, J. A. 2010. Unconscious Mind. Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology. 1–3.

Author Information

  1. 1

    San Francisco State University and University of California, San Francisco

  2. 2

    Yale University

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 30 JAN 2010

Abstract

In the words of George A. Miller, “In some sense not yet defined we are both conscious and unconscious at the same time.” Miller's eloquent assertion is illustrated perhaps most dramatically by an experiment conducted by Logothetis and Schall (1989), in which subjects were trained to self-report the contents of their conscious experience under conditions of binocular rivalry, a striking perceptual phenomenon in which visual inputs cannot be resolved into a single percept. In this kind of experiment, subjects are first trained to respond in certain ways when presented with certain visual stimuli (e.g., to button-press when presented with the image of a house). After training, a different visual stimulus is presented to each eye (e.g., an image of a house to one eye and an image of a tree to the other). Surprisingly, the subject does not consciously perceive both objects (e.g., a tree overlapping a house) but responds as if perceiving only one object at a time (e.g., a house followed by a tree). Each percept occupies consciousness for only a few seconds, even though both images are continuously present and each exerts a nontrivial influence over nervous processing (e.g., activation of the visual system and other brain regions). At any given moment, the subject is unaware of the computational processes leading to this bizarre “one at a time” outcome and of the systematic influence that the inexperienced percept has on neural, cognitive, and even emotional processes (Williams, Morris, McGlone, Abbott, & Mattingley, 2004). Muraya, Yang, and Blake (2007) discuss the factors that influence the outcome of the visual competition, including how voluntary action toward the stimuli modulates rivalry. However, paralleling what has been found in countless studies with undergraduate participants, the subjects of Logothetis and Schall—in this case, rhesus monkeys—exhibited binocular rivalry and were, in a sense, conscious and unconscious at the same time.

Keywords:

  • automaticity;
  • awareness;
  • consciousness;
  • implicit processing;
  • unconscious