This is the 2007 version. Click here for the 2017 chapter 04 table of contents.

Perception without Awareness

Many ESP-like experiences could be due to perception without awareness. Perception without awareness occurs under the following conditions:

What is perception without awareness?

A stimulus is present in the environment, strong enough so that a person could perceive it if attention was drawn to it.

The person does not pay attention to the stimulus and does not remember it later. However, the stimulus affects the person's behavior or thought process.

Suppose you are singing a popular song. You go out of the room for a minute, and then you come back in and start singing it again. Your friend says, "Hey, I was just thinking of that song!" No doubt your friend heard you singing it a few moments earlier, but if your friend might remember this. It seems like an amazing coincidence or ESP: "We were both thinking of the same song."

What is the difference between subliminal perception and perception without awareness?

Unlike subliminal perception (discussed next) perception without awareness involves a stimulus that is possible to perceive if a person tries to see it. The perception takes place outside of attention and remains unnoticed. Such unnoticed stimuli can easily affect behavior.

A student reported an experience that was probably caused by perception without awareness:

One rainy cold day I was speeding along the interstate on my way to Dublin, Georgia. I wasn't thinking of anything in particular. I was just listening to the radio. All of a sudden I started thinking, "Isn't it funny how I've never been stopped by the state patrol." Most of my friends have been stopped at least once or twice. Then I could have bit my tongue off because who pulled out right behind me but the State Patrol. Of course, they turned on the lights and siren later because it took me a few minutes to realize what had happened. When I did, I couldn't believe it, because I was just thinking about how I had never been stopped before. I finally pulled over and the patrolman was really nice. He gave me a warning ticket and said to "watch out." I'm not sure if this is ESP or what but I hope it doesn't happen again because I might not be so lucky. [Author's files]

How might a student's intuition about a police car be explained?

The student may have seen the police car in her rear-view mirror but did not realize she saw it. Or perhaps she noticed a change in the behavior of other drivers. Everybody slows down when the police are around. The student may have noticed the other cars slowing down, and that led her to think about the police, right before they stopped her. To her, the coincidence seemed uncanny, like ESP, because she had no memory of noticing such a cue.

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Copyright © 2007-2011 Russ Dewey