An example of how we are unaware of some of the unconscious bases of our decisions

This 2014 human study provided details of how we are unaware of some of the unconscious bases of our decisions:

“We show that unconscious information can be accumulated over time and integrated with conscious elements presented either before or after to boost or diminish decision accuracy.

The unconscious information could only be used when some conscious decision-relevant information was also present.

Surprisingly, the unconscious boost in accuracy was not accompanied by corresponding increases in confidence, suggesting that we have poor metacognition for unconscious decisional evidence.”

I wouldn’t agree that these findings apply as broadly as the researchers said they did during interviews.

The first reason is that the researchers restricted the study to the subjects’ cerebrums’ visual processing. In everyday life, though, our limbic systems and lower brains are also very much involved with visual processing.

As an example, have you ever taken a nature walk where you instinctually jumped back from a vague initial impression only to find that the object was a stick? I’ve done that many times, and our shared human instincts operating with the limbic system and lower brain saved me once in childhood from stepping on a copperhead snake.

Secondly, the researchers limited the term “unconscious” to mean below visual perception of the subjects’ cerebrums.

What if, for example, the study’s visual cues included emotional content that involved the subjects’ limbic systems? The researchers may have able to develop a basis for findings that applied to common operations such as making decisions that are influenced by unconscious emotional content.

The third reason to not apply the findings as broadly as the researchers may have desired is that the researchers limited the term “metacognition” to operations of the the subjects’ cerebrums. We know that Task performance and beliefs about task responses are solely cerebral exercises, and that accurately describes the metacognition experiment.

As an example of how people’s metacognitions are much broader than just their cerebrums, I take a crowded train to and from work everyday. It’s fairly straightforward to understand people’s actions, body postures, and facial expressions in terms of the combined metacognition operations of their entire brains.

Also, the metacognition finding sample size may have been too small by involving only five subjects.

http://www.pnas.org/content/111/45/16214.full “Unconscious information changes decision accuracy but not confidence”

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