Reading and doing arithmetic nonconsciously – AY. SklarN. LevyA. GoldsteinR. MandelA. Maril, and RR. Hassin, PNAS 2012 Nov 27;109(48):19614-9

The modal view in the cognitive and neural sciences holds that consciousness is necessary for abstract, symbolic, and rule-following computations. Hence, semantic processing of multiple-word expressions, and performing of abstract mathematical computations, are widely believed to require consciousness. In this article the authors report a series of experiments in which they show that multiple-word verbal expressions can be processed outside conscious awareness and that multistep, effortful arithmetic equations can be solved unconsciously. The results show that novel word combinations, in the form of expressions that contain semantic violations, become conscious before expressions that do not contain semantic violations, that the more negative a verbal expression is, the more quickly it becomes conscious, and that subliminal arithmetic equations prime their results. These findings call for a significant update of our view of conscious and unconscious processes.

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