Tuesday, August 14, 2012

If you are not in the group, you will not be in consciousness.

Here is a fascinating piece of work from Yar Pinto and collaborators at the University of Amsterdam, reported at the recent annual meeting of the Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness:
What is the influence of social cognitions on consciousness? There is ample data that our response to visual stimuli depends on our social biases. However, perhaps visual perception per se is not altered, but only our responses to these percepts. In the current research we directly assessed the impact of social cognitions on consciousness. Specifically, we tested Dutch participants, and compared the perception of either black (experiment 1) or Moroccan (experiment 2) faces to the perception of Dutch faces.We employed a binocular rivalry task. One eye viewed a low contrast face, while the other eye viewed constantly changing Mondrian patterns. Initially the changing patterns dominate, so the picture of the face is invisible. By gradually increasing the contrast of the face, and decreasing the contrast of the Mondrian patterns, the face breaks through to conscious perception.Both experiments showed that Dutch faces enter consciousness quicker than non-dutch faces. Moreover, this effect is reduced/eliminated when the faces are inverted, and this effect correlates with how biased the participant is (measured with an implicit association task).We concludes that social cognition can directly change conscious perception. Specifically, stereotypes seem to slow down the entry of unwanted information into consciousness. Our findings suggest that entry into consciousness is not purely a matter of low-level factors, but may come about in the interplay between high-level pre-settings, and low-level input. Importantly, although previous research suggests that faces of outgroup members draw attention, this increased attention does not speed entry into awareness.

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