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Surprising Science

Your Subconscious Can Do Arithmetic

You may not know it, but your subconscious can do arithmetic, according to a recent study — a find that contradicts the popular view among psychologists.

You may not know it, but your subconscious can do arithmetic, according to a recent study.

Tom Stafford from the BBC writes that this finding conflicts with the popular belief held among psychologists that the conscious mind is responsible for any complex problem-solving or analytical thinking. While the unconscious takes care of reactions to stimuli, delivering basic facts, and so on. But this study calls all that into question.

The team that made the find used something called Continuous Flash Suppression in their research, which allowed them to slip images into participants’ subconscious without revealing them to the conscious one. The procedure works by displaying different images to each eye. One eye is shown images in rapid succession, intended to distract the participant’s conscious mind while the other eye is shown relevant information.

In the study, participants were shown flashing bright squares in one eye, while the other eye was shown an arithmetic question (e.g., 9-3-4=). After, participants were then asked to read off a series of numbers, and asked to do so as quickly as possible. The researchers noted in their paper that the participants were much quicker to read off the answer to the arithmetic problem than the other numbers by a significant margin. The researchers suggest that people were already primed and ready to read off the right answer, as their unconscious mind had already solved the question. 

The researchers write of their results:

“These findings call for a significant update of our view of conscious and unconscious processes.”

Read more at BBC.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock


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