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Psychological Science study shows brain can process information when not conscious of it

Staff Reporter

Published: Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Updated: Thursday, December 5, 2013 02:12

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The brain can process visual information and give meaning to it when a person is not conscious of it, according to a new study by the University of Arizona.

“Many, many theorists assume that, because it takes a lot of energy for brain processing, the brain is only going to spend time processing what you’re ultimately going to perceive,” study researcher Mary Peterson, director of the Cognitive Science Program at the University of Arizona told the Huffington Post. “But in fact, the brain is deciding what you’re going to perceive, and it’s processing all of the information and then determining what the best interpretation is.”

The study was published by in the journal Psychological Science. Researchers identified a peak in average brainwaves, which meant the brain was processing information and assigning meaning to it. The researchers wanted to see if the participants’ brains peaked when they were looking at many black silhouettes. Some of the silhouettes were objects hidden in white space.

When the brainwaves peaked, it suggested that the participants did not consciously recognize the shapes in the white. The brains analyzed the shapes and understood their meaning.

“We were asking the question for whether the brain was processing the meaning of the objects that are on the outside of these silhouettes,” researcher and doctoral candidate Jay Sanguinetti said. “The specific question was, ‘Does the brain process those hidden shapes to the level of meaning, even when the subject doesn’t consciously see them?’”

The study found a peak in the participants’ brainwaves even when they didn’t see the white shapes outside of the black silhouette.

“But the brain rejects them as interpretations, and if it rejects the shapes from conscious perception, then you won’t have any awareness of them,” Peterson said.

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