Mapping the Transition from Unconscious to Conscious Knowledge

Document Type: 
ASSC Conference Item
Article Type: 
Unconscious States Processing
meta-knowledge, unconscious knowledge, implicit learning, artificial grammar learning, the transition from unconscioius to conscious knowledge
Deposited by: 
Mr Ryan B Scott
Date of Issue: 
Ryan Scott, Zoltán Dienes
Event Dates: 
19-22nd June 2008
Event Location: 
Taipei, Taiwan
Event Title: 
12th annual meeting of the Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness
Event Type: 
ASSC Conference
Presentation Type: 
Number of Pages: 
Alternative URL:
In various implicit learning paradigms, initial unconscious knowledge can precede the emergence of conscious knowledge (e.g. Fu, Fu, & Dienes, in press). Adopting higher order thought theory and exploiting subjective measures of consciousness we examine this transition in an artificial grammar learning (AGL) paradigm. In the standard AGL task participants are initially exposed to strings of letters, which unbeknown to them conform to a complex set of grammar rules. Subsequently participants are informed of the rules and required to distinguish the grammaticality of each of a new set of test strings. Participants reliably distinguish grammaticality while apparently unaware that they are able to do so. Simple claims that the knowledge is conscious or unconscious ignore the range of experiences and mental states involved in AGL decisions. Thus, we employed a range of subjective reports to tease apart the unconscious and conscious states of knowledge which support those accurate responses. Participants rated the familiarity of each test string, reported their confidence in each grammaticality judgment, and indicated the perceived basis for each decision e.g. random choice, intuition, familiarity, rules, or recollection. Participants classified the test strings twice, enabling us to map the transition between the reported bases for judgments and examine how the relationship between confidence, familiarity, and the decision bases changed over time. Responses revealed both unconscious and conscious knowledge from the outset but with a clear transition between them. Differences in the subjective familiarity of test strings accounted for almost all the grammaticality knowledge. Familiarity could initially influence responses without awareness, predicting grammaticality judgments that were reportedly selected at random. Over time participants realised that their choices reflected differences in feelings of intuition and subsequently familiarity, but often continued to lack confidence in their judgments indicating the absence of meta-knowledge that these feelings distinguish grammaticality. Meta-knowledge supporting confidence, and hence conscious judgment knowledge, was shown to emerge through a process of calibration, as the assessed reliability of knowledge relating to the distribution of familiarity increased. We argue that in general higher order thoughts may arise through converting objective probability estimates into subjective probabilities.
Scott&DienesASSC12.pdf77.06 KB