Conscious and unconscious cognition: A graded, dynamic perspective

Document Type: 
Theory of Consciousness
conscious vs. information processing, consciousness, implicit learning, automaticity
Deposited by: 
Dr. Axel Cleeremans
Date of Issue: 
Axel Cleeremans
Journal/Publication Title: 
International Journal of Psychology
in press
Alternative URL:
How should we conceptualize the relationships between information processing with and without consciousness? This issue has long been—and continues to be—the focus of parallel controversies in diverse fields, ranging from memory to learning, from attention to vision. In this article, I briefly overview some relevant findings, and sketch a novel conceptual framework to think about the differences between conscious and unconscious cognition that takes it as a starting point that conscious and unconscious information processing are rooted in the same set of learning and processing mechanisms. This framework takes it as starting points (1) that the main function of consciousness is to make flexible, adaptive control over behavior possible (2) that consciousness is best viewed as involving a graded continuum expressed over representations, and (3) that learning is a mandatory process that always accompanies information processing and through which our conscious representations of the world are made to reflect those contents which are most in need of control at some point in time. The framework applies most naturally to our understanding of the phenomena of implicit learning — our ability to learn about the structure of ensembles of stimuli without intention, and with only limited accessibility to the products of this learning — but it also as implications for skill acquisition, cognitive development, and automaticity.
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