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See Inside November/December 2011

Brain Conducts a Subconscious Reality Check

Our subconscious notices incongruities in a scene



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Ever do a double take without knowing why? Your unconscious mind may have noticed something that did not fit your expectations. A study published in June in Psychological Science suggests that the mind’s unconscious awareness is capable of analyzing everyday situations for red flags and alerting our conscious brain about them. Psychologists at Tel Aviv University and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem showed subjects various scenes, masked by moving geometric shapes, which gradually became easier to see. Subjects were instructed to press a button as soon as they could make out the scene. They hit the button faster for incongruous situations—such as a basketball player dunking a watermelon—as compared with typical ones, which suggests that the unconscious mind was differentiating between them. [For more on this work and unconscious awareness, turn to this issue's Consciousness Redux column.] 

This article was originally published with the title "Something's Wrong with this Picture."

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