PSYC 2650 CHAPTER 15—Conscious thought, unconscious thought
THE COGNITIVE UNCONSCIOUS
• Thinking, remembers, and categorizing all feel like they’re quick and effortless BUT
these all depend on a great deal of work taking place “behind the scenes”
• Cognitive unconscious—activity of which we are completely unaware but that makes
possible our ordinary interaction with the world
o Rather different from the sort of thing that many people have in mind when speak
of “unconscious” thought or memories
o Freud—believed people defend themselves from anxiety and traumatizing events
by pushing those certain ideas out of consciousness and into the unconscious
Argued had its own goals and its own logic separate from conscious mind.
o ASIDE FROM FREUD’S THEORY—modern psychologists believe that
processes that unfold in the cognitive unconscious are in no sense threatening, nor
are they actively suppressed
Unconscious mind supports conscious as opposed to working against it.
Specifically, involves the underlying processes that make the conscious
Unconscious processes, conscious products
• Are we TRULY aware of the “products” created within our minds?
o Many investigators believe that we are in fact unaware of the processes and
therefore can’t report on the steps that led us to our beliefs, perceptions, or
e.g. consider things we can easily retrieve from our memories:
• What is your mother’s first name?
• What is your father’s first name?
• Even though answers come easily to us, still have no awareness of
searching through memory/ of “travelling” from node to node
within a network. • All we are aware of is product (mother’s first name) and not the
process that takes place in order for us to retrieve that information.
The influence of unconscious attributions
• Role of the unconscious is also evident in studies of implicit memory—in these studies
p’s are plainly being influences by events they can’t consciously recall therefore
influence requires several steps of reasoning.
o E.g. “that name rings a bell, and I’m not sure why. But the experimenter is asking
me about famous names, and there are other famous names on this list in front of
me. I guess therefore that this one must also be the name of a famous person”—
this interference sounds like an example of conscious thinking BUT evidence
suggests that we are completely unaware of the process of “thinking.”
• Causal attribution—occurs when this sophistication of aspects of thinking (e.g.
reasoning) are present; it is reasoning about the cause to which we should attribute some
o E.g. Nisbett and Schachter study (pg.481)
• Sometimes, the processes of thought do seem to be conscious/we reason carefully and
deliberately, weighing each step and scrutinizing each bit of logic.
o This sense of knowing one’s own thought may, in some cases, be an illusion.
o In studies having to do with this issue, participants think they know why they
acted a certain way but are mistaken—their self-reports are offered with full
confidence and in many cases the p’s report that they carefully and deliberately
thought about their actions, and so the various causes and influences were “out in
o How can introspections get so far off track?
Processes of thought are unconscious therefore ppl seeking to introspect
have no way to inspect these processes and so if going to explain own
behavior, need some other source of information.
After-the-fact- reconstruction—people reason in fashion: “why did I act
that way? I have no direct information but maybe I can draw on my broad
knowledge about why in general, people might act in certain ways in this situation. From that then, I can make plausible inferences about why I
acted as I did.”
• Two things to notice:
o After-the-fact reconstruction MAY be correct b/c most
people understand the factors that matter in a situation—
usually inference based on generic information. Other
cases, they can be COMPLETELY wrong. E.g. if someone
has mistaken beliefs about why in general people act in
certain ways in a certain setting, inferences based on those
beliefs will be problematic/will go off track if person
simply hasn’t noticed some relevant factor in current
o Striking that after-the-fact reconstructions don’t “feel like”
When research p’s explain their own behaviors.
They’re 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—they feel genuine but a lot of
these subjective feelings are mistaken.
People are aware of conclusion (e.g. I acted this
way because…) but not of the processes that led
them to conclusions
Unconscious Guides to conscious thinking
• Sometimes, we make decisions based on clear, well-articulated “inner dialogue” with
ourselves—even her thought, there is a role for the cognitive unconscious, because even
here an elaborative unconscious support needed called the “fringe” or the “horizon” of
our conscious thoughts.
o Our deliberate conscious thinking—about problems, images, or words—is guided
by an unnoticed framework.
Thus, the unconscious mental framework protects us from the uncertainty
and ambiguity and shapes both the content and the sequence of our
Blind sight andAmnesia • On implicit memory tests, amnesic patients seem quite normal, making it clear that they
are influenced in their present beliefs and behaviors by the specific content of prior
episodes. Therefore, it seems as though people with amnesia can remember and can be
influenced by their memories, with no conscious awareness that they are recalling the
past—this is called “memory without awareness.”
o Blind sight—pattern observed in patients who have experienced damage to the
striate cortex; results in “blindness” for all practical purposes.
E.g. if asked to move around a room, they will bump into objects; they do
not react to flashes of light etc. –in sense patients can “see” but they are
not aware of seeing.
DISADVANTAGES OF UNCONSCIOUS PROCESSING
• One way to answer questions like “why do we need consciousness?” and “what function
is served by consciousness?” can be tackled by two broad factors.
o 1—the various cases of unconscious processing all seem to rely on well-
established routine doing a well-defined job in an identifiable domain.
E.g. we are unaware of machinery need for memory search BUT notice
that this machinery is needed for memory search—it has