Study: Unconscious Mind Plays a Role in Learning

In findings published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this November, researchers from the Hebrew University in Israel show that the brain is capable of unconsciously processing reading material and manipulating mathematical problems that require multiple steps for a solution. After performing several experiments, researchers were able to determine that the unconscious [...]

In findings published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this November, researchers from the Hebrew University in Israel show that the brain is capable of unconsciously processing reading material and manipulating mathematical problems that require multiple steps for a solution. After performing several experiments, researchers were able to determine that the unconscious mind plays a role when retaining information and processing numerical data that was observed for too short a time for a conscious mind to properly grab and retain.

Researchers exposed experimental subjects to snippets of information, or portions of a mathematical problem, for the duration of no longer than 2,000 milliseconds. The time the subjects were exposed to the information varied. The longer the subjects observed the information shown, the easier time they had retaining and recalling it when queried later.

All experiments used Continuous Flash Suppression to render stimuli invisible for relatively long durations (up to 2,000 ms). Where appropriate, unawareness was verified using both objective and subjective measures. 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.

When asked later to recall what they had seen, subjects were able to remember the snippets of text that they saw. The more a sentence or snippet was in context with the real world, the easier time those exposed to it had in recalling it.

In addition, they were also able to recall what step they must take in the mathematical problem to which they’d been exposed in order to solve it.

When polled, participants didn’t have a conscious memory of either the text nor the math problem, but were still able to recall it and parse it. This finding strongly indicated that the subconscious mind was involved in the learning process even when the conscious mind was not.

This is the first time that such an involvement of unconscious mind in learning has been detected, and further research into the role it plays in processing and retention could point to new and better ways of teaching comprehension and mathematics.

Birmingham Alabama has a high level of illiteracy (20 percent or more) and a low level of math performance on standardized tests. These unconscious techniques might improve the reading ability and math performance of people destined to be a lifelong recipient of tax payer support if not properly educated.

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