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the subconscious brain July 31, 2007

Posted by KG in race, science.
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excerpts from nytimes about the priming of our subsconscious brain and the role it plays in eliciting certain behavior:

“Well, we’re finding that we have these unconscious behavioral guidance systems that are continually furnishing suggestions through the day about what to do next, and the brain is considering and often acting on those, all before conscious awareness.”…

The brain appears to use the very same neural circuits to execute an unconscious act as it does a conscious one. In a study that appeared in the journal Science in May, a team of English and French neuroscientists performed brain imaging on 18 men and women who were playing a computer game for money. The players held a handgrip and were told that the tighter they squeezed when an image of money flashed on the screen, the more of the loot they could keep.

As expected, the players squeezed harder when the image of a British pound flashed by than when the image of a penny did — regardless of whether they consciously perceived the pictures, many of which flew by subliminally. But the circuits activated in their brains were similar as well: an area called the ventral pallidum was particularly active whenever the participants responded.

“This area is located in what used to be called the reptilian brain, well below the conscious areas of the brain,”…

This bottom-up order makes sense from an evolutionary perspective. The subcortical areas of the brain evolved first and would have had to help individuals fight, flee and scavenge well before conscious, distinctly human layers were added later in evolutionary history. In this sense, Dr. Bargh argues, unconscious goals can be seen as open-ended, adaptive agents acting on behalf of the broad, genetically encoded aims — automatic survival systems….

Yet the new research on priming makes it clear that we are not alone in our own consciousness.

this article made me think of harvard’s project implicit tests that malcolm gladwell has written about, specifically the race implicit assumption test. it basically tests the unconscious for the cultural assumptions and stereotypes we have. do your stated values match those of your unconscious? take the test and find out.

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