Friday, May 31, 2013

what we think we are thinking is not really what we are thinking.

Second in the series from Cognition & Emotion (v27, n4). 

This is one of my favorite topics – when we look inside our heads to figure out what we are thinking and we get it exactly wrong. 

Moran and Bar-Anan looked at this in a very subtle way.  They played either a very annoying noise or a piece of pleasant music.  Each one ended with a signal.  The signal itself wasn’t annoying or pleasant itself, but signaled that the annoying or pleasant sounds were about to end.  Kind of like Pavlov’s dog, the subjects of the study soon learned this connection - that the signal meant that the noise or the music was going to end. 

Then they asked the subjects to rate how much they liked or disliked the signal.  What would you expect?  Would they prefer the signal that ended the annoying noise?  Or would they prefer the signal that ended the pleasant music?

The conscious ratings of preference fell pretty much where you would expect.  When a signal ended pleasant music, the subjects reported that they didn’t like it so much.  They were disappointed that the nice music was ending.  But when the signal ended annoying noise, the subjects reported that they liked it.  They were happy that the annoying noise was ending.

But here is where it gets interesting.  They also used some automatic measures of preference. I need to read the full paper to find out if it was fMRI or EEG or Emotiv facial expression reading.  But they used some kind of system that looks at what your unconscious brain is thinking.  As we have seen before, these unconscious thoughts have more of an effect on what you do most of the time than your conscious thoughts.

And it turns out that your unconscious thoughts were exactly the opposite of your conscious ones.  The signal that ended the pleasant music activated pleasantness and the signal that ended the annoying noise activated annoyance.

Here is my explanation of the difference.  You can tell me if you agree.  When the annoying noise is playing, the annoyed parts of the brain are activated.  So when the signal sounds to end it, there is still some activation there.  Your conscious brain uses logic to decide that something ending annoyance should be good.  But the leftover electrical activity is still zipping around in the annoyance area. 

Which one is really stronger?  As usual, random emotional electrical activity zipping around beats out logic every time.  As much as we try to fool ourselves, we are not logical rational beings.  Isn’t it great ?!?!?

No comments: