Subliminal study shows subconscious learning is possible
Subconscious learning probably is possible, say US researchers. What's more,
subconscious learning may affect our conscious decisions - without our
Takeo Watanabe and his colleagues at Boston University found that people who
had watched a particular direction of subliminal dot movement during a
letter-naming trial were significantly better at picking it out later.
The finding challenges the idea that attention is an essential element of the
learning process. "Attention can make learning more efficient," says Watanabe,
"but it's not necessary."
Watanabe dismisses gimmicks such as cassettes that purport to teach you while
you sleep. But he speculates that listening to a foreign language being spoken
at low volume - loud enough that your brain can perceive it but not so loud
that you are aware - could improve a person's pronunciation and listening
skills. "It could be useful," he says.
Cognitive aspects such as sentence structure and semantics would not be
affected, he suspects.
Watanabe's team asked volunteers to name certain letters presented on a
screen. Meanwhile, behind the letters, dots danced randomly - or so it
appeared. In fact, one in 20 shared a direction. This was just below the
threshold of conscious perception.
The volunteers did this letter-naming task for an hour every day for a month.
Then they were asked to do another series of tests. These involved watching
moving dots and identifying any underlying pattern, or saying whether two
displays of dots moved in the same direction. In both of these cases only
about one in 10 dots were moving coherently - an activity that was just above
the conscious threshold.
The team found that people who had watched a particular direction of movement
during the first series of tests were significantly better at picking it out
"I think it's one of the nicest sets of data I've seen for learning outside of
perceptual awareness," says Phil Merikle, at the University of Waterloo in
But there's an important conclusion that the authors don't stress, he says.
The study shows that what the volunteers learned subconsciously during the
trials influences their conscious experience.
"This perceptual learning is influencing how they see the world," says Merkle.
Subconscious learning may affect our conscious decisions - without our knowing
it. "It's what advertisers have known all along: if we just keep the exposure
rate up, people will be influenced."
Journal reference: Nature (vol 413, p 844)
--- --- --- --- ---
Useless hypotheses, etc.:
consciousness, phlogiston, philosophy, vitalism, mind, free will, qualia,
analog computing, cultural relativism, GAC, Cyc, Eliza, cryonics, individual
uniqueness, ego, human values, scientific relinquishment
We move into a better future in proportion as science displaces superstition.
Everything that can happen has already happened, not just once,
but an infinite number of times, and will continue to do so forever.
(Everything that can happen = more than anyone can imagine.)
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