chapter  10
20 Pages

The problems of consciousness

One of the major differences between automatic and controlled processing is that controlled processing is, by definition, said to be open to strategic, conscious control whereas automatic processing takes place outside consciousness. Although we may become aware of the outcome of automatic processing we are unable to consciously inspect the processing leading up to that outcome. By this account it sounds as if the difference between conscious and unconscious processing corresponds very closely to the distinction made between controlled/automatic processing. Some theorists have indeed tried to equate attentional processes with consciousness or awareness. To a large extent this is what Norman and Shallice (1986) have done in their model. But, beware, there is more than one meaning, or interpretation of conscious or consciousness. We shall return to arguments over the nature of consciousness after we have considered some experiments in which the fate of unattended (unconsciously processed?) information is examined. Despite the problems associated with deciding what we actually mean by conscious and unconscious processing, there is a large literature on the fate of unattended information, where experimenters usually take the term “unattended” to mean “unaware” or “without conscious identification”. We shall consider what consciousness might be at the end of the chapter.