The amazing unconscious mind: People are capable of non-conscious reading and arithmetic

New research from the Pyschology Department of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem says that people are capable of both reading and doing math without consciously being aware of it.

Dr. Ran Hassin and Dr. Anat Maril, along with graduate students Asael Sklar, Ariel Goldstein, Nir Levy and Roi Mandel conducted a study where over 270 participants were shown sentences and mathematical equations via Continuous Flash Suppression (CFS). CFS exposes one eye to a number of images in rapid succession, while the other eye is only shown one image. The conscious mind is drawn to the rapidly changing images shown to the one eye, so the subject is not even consciously aware of the static image. This leaves the unconscious mind to deal with the static image.

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To test if the participants could do math unconsciously, they were shown a series of numbers in rapid succession in one eye, a mathematical equation in the static image in the other eye, and were asked to call out the numbers as they saw them. The results showed that the participants were much quicker in calling out numbers that were a result of the static equation their unconscious mind perceived. Thus, if the static image perceived by their unconscious mind had the equation 7+2-3, they were much quicker to call out the number 6 from the series of numbers their conscious mind perceived, rather than 5 or 8.

A similar test was used for reading. The participants were shown a short phrase to the 'unconscious' eye, and a rapidly changing series of images to the 'conscious' eye, with each phrase remaining until the participant could repeat the phrase to the researchers. Strange or interesting phrases — which contained what they called 'semantic violations' — like "the monkey ate a car", were perceived quicker than more normal phrases, like "the monkey ate a banana". Negative phrases were also more quickly perceived than more normal or positive phrases.

"These results show that the humans can perform complex, rule-based operations unconsciously, contrary to existing models of consciousness and the unconscious," the researchers said, according to Science Daily.

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"Therefore," said Dr. Hassin, "current theories of the unconscious processes and human consciousness need to be revised. These revisions would bring us closer to solving one of the biggest scientific mysteries of the 21st century: What are the functions of human consciousness."

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