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PSYC 2650 Chapter Notes -Unconscious Mind, Implicit Memory, Understanding Consciousness

Course Code
PSYC 2650
Anneke Olthof

of 8
Chapter 15: Conscious Thought, Unconscious Thought
- much of the progress in understanding consciousness has come not from examining
consciousness directly but from studying what happens in the absence of it
- showed when consciousness is and is not needed
- there is still much about it we do not understand and still agreement about how it
should be defined and studied
Consciousness - a state of awareness of sensations or ideas, such that we can reflect
on those sensations and ideas, know what it “feels like” to experience these sensations
and ideas, and can, in many cases, report to others that we are aware of the sensations
and ideas
The Cognitive Unconscious
- our intellectual lives require elaborate support structure even though they feel like
theyʼre quick and effortless
Cognitive Unconscious - activity of which we are completely unaware but that makes
possible our ordinary interactions with the world - behind-the-scenes activity
- the cognitive unconscious is rather different from the fort of thing that many people
have in mind when they speak of “unconscious” thoughts or memories
- Freud argued that the unconscious mind has tis own goals and its own logic
- modern psychologists believe that processes that unfold in the cognitive unconscious
are in no sense threatening, nor are they actively suppressed, these processes donʼt
have an agenda separate from that of the conscious mind
- instead the cognitive unconscious serves and supports the conscious mind,
specifically, it involves the underlying processes that make conscious experience
- in this way, the cognitive unconscious may seem less exotic than the unconscious but
it is rich, powerful and intriguing
Unconscious Processes, Conscious Products
- we are aware of the products created within our minds but unaware of the processes
that led to these products
- people usually cannot tell when they are genuinely remembering something and when
they have instead inferred/assumed or imaged that something append
The Influence of Unconscious Attributions
- the role of the unconscious is also evident in studies of implicit memory
- in these studies, participants are plainly being influenced by events they cannot
consciously recall
- this influence often seems to require several steps of reasoning
- we are generally unaware of our own thinking
- similar in cases involving source confusion
- our unconscious thinking can sometimes be rather sophisticated, with layers of
inference and reasoning
- this sophistication is particularly evident when the unconscious thinking involves a
Causal Attribution - reasoning about the cause to which we should attribute some
- Nisbett and Schachter asked their participants to endure a series of electric shocks,
with each shock being slightly more severe, wanted to see how far they would go
- before some participants were given a pill that they were told would diminish the pain
but would have side effects such as shaking hangs, butterflies in the stomach etc
- this pill was a placebo with no analgesic properties or side effects
- remarkably, participants who took the pill accepted 4 times as much shock
- proposed that the control participants noticed that their hands were shaking, their
stomach was upset (reactions to electric shock) and used this as evidence that they
were quite uncomfortable, asking for the shocks to be stopped
- the placebo participants attributed the physical symptoms to the pill, so didnʼt worry
about them, they were less influenced by somatic markers, overruled evidence of their
own anxiety and misread their own internal state
- the reasoning about the pill was entirely unconscious
- note the complexity of the unconscious thinking in this experiment - the participants
are reasoning about themselves in an intellectually sophisticated manner: observing
symptoms, generating hypotheses about them, drawing conclusions
- they reached erroneous conclusions excuse they had been misled
Mistaken Introspections
- it is useful to distinguish between the unconscious processes involved in thought and
the conscious products that result from these processes
- this distinction isnʼt always clear-cut
- sometimes the processes of thought do seem to be conscious
- sometimes you reason carefully and deliberately, weighing each step and scrutinizing
each bit of logic
- this sense of knowing oneʼs own thoughts may in some cases be an illusion
- you feel like the processes were conscious, so that you know why you reached a
conclusion or why you made a particular deacons, but you may be mistaken
- e.g. in the electric shock study, participants had a belief about why they acted as they
did but their beliefs were wrong
- participants in another study read a brief except from a novel and asked to describe
the emotional impact the excerpt had one them and why it had the impact
- they were impressively consistent in their judgments but they were wrong
- self-reports are offered with full confidence and in many cases the participants report
that they carefully and deliberately thought about their actions and influences seemed
in plain view
- how could their introspections be so far off track?
- the processes of thought are often unconscious
- there is no way to introspect them by thinking of them
- they use after-the-fact reconstruction which will sometimes be correct but sometimes
totally wrong - they will go off track if the person simply hansʼt noticed some relevant
factor in the current setting
- itʼs striking that these after-the-fact reconstructions donʼt “feel life” inferences, when
people explain their own behaviours theyʼre usually convinced that they are simply
remembering their own mental processes based on some sort of “direct inspection” of
what went on in their own minds
- these reconstructions feel like genuine introspections
Unconscious Guides to Conscious Thinking
- sometimes we make discoveries based on a visual image that we carefully and
unconsciously scrutinize
- even here there is a role for the cognitive unconscious because even here an
elaborate unconscious support structure is needed - a support structure that exists at
the “fringe” or the horizon” of our conscious thought
- evidence from this fringe comes from many sources, but a wide variety of cases in
which our thoughts seem guided or influenced by an “unseen hand”
- e.g. in our description of problem-solving, we emphasized the role of set (unnoticed
assumptions and definitions that guide our search for the problemʼs solution
- even when the problem-solving is conscious and deliberate, even when we think out
loud about the steps of the problem solution, we are guided by a set
- for the most part it is a good thing, because the set keeps us focused, protecting us
from distracting and unproductive lines of thought, but it can sometimes be an obstacle
to problem-solving and the fact that the set is unconscious makes it all the more
difficult to overcome the obstacle
- similarly, in the discussion of decision-making, we emphasized the importance of the
decisionʼs frame, you might be completely focused on the decisions and fully aware of
your options and your efforts toward choosing them
- the evidence suggests that you will be heavily influenced by the unnoticed framing of
the decision - the way the options are desired and the way the question itself is posed
- you donʼt think about the framing itself but the framing unmistakably colours your
thoughts about the decision and plays a large role in determining the outcomes of
those thoughts
- likewise, words and sentences can often be interpreted in more than one way
- in all of these ways, our deliberate, conscious thinking is guided by an unnoticed
- we are aware that we are thinking about something, but not aware of how this thinking
is sharped by assumptions or associations lying in the background
- the unconscious mental framework protects us from uncertainty and ambiguity and it
shapes both the content and the sequence of our thoughts
Blind Sight and Amnesia
- patients who are suffering from Korsakoffʼs syndrome often have no conscious
awareness of events they have witnessed to things they have done
- they will insist they have no recollection, and fail on tasks that require recollection
- yet they do remember these events in some sense: on tests of implicit memory,
amnesic patients seem quite normal, making it clear that they are influenced in their
present beliefs and behaviours by the specific content of the prior episodes
- they can remember and be influenced by their memories with no conscious awareness