Summary: Consciousness

George Mandler, a cognitive psychologist, suggested that conscious thought is required when we deal with novel or unexpected events, notably learning, making judgments and troubleshooting. Once an activity such as driving is well learned, we can do it automatically. However, when first learning how to perform such an activity, we must pay attention or devote conscious awareness to the task. Even after the activity is automatic, unusual events make us pay attention.

Acts of learning seem to begin with unconscious processes. Experiments on implicit learning show that people can sense a pattern (and can make correct responses based upon it) long before they can describe the pattern accurately in words.

The effect of focusing attention can be seen during brain scans. One area, the anterior cingulate gyrus in the frontal lobes, plays an important role in controlling attention and comprehensive planning. References to "executive" processes in cognition refer to this sort of activity.

Neisser suggested in 1963 that mental processes come in two distinct varieties. One variety is conscious, step-by-step, and subject to executive control. Bruner labeled that analytic thought. The other type of mental process is passive, parallel, and harder to control. Bruner called it intuitive. Similar proposals for two modes of consciousness have appeared several times more recently.

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Copyright © 2007 Russ Dewey