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In psychology, the word subconscious is the part of consciousness that is not currently in focal awareness. The word "subconscious" represents an anglicized version of the French subconscient as coined by the psychologist Pierre Janet (1859–1947), who argued that underneath the layers of critical-thought functions of the conscious mind lay a powerful awareness that he called the subconscious mind.
Scholarly use of the term
Sigmund Freud first used the term "subconscious" in 1893 to describe associations and impulses that are not accessible to consciousness. He later abandoned the term in favor of unconscious, noting the following:
"If someone talks of subconsciousness, I cannot tell whether he means the term topographically – to indicate something lying in the mind beneath consciousness – or qualitatively – to indicate another consciousness, a subterranean one, as it were. He is probably not clear about any of it. The only trustworthy antithesis is between conscious and unconscious."
In 1896, in Letter 52, Freud introduced the stratification of mental processes, noting that memory-traces are occasionally re-arranged in accordance with new circumstances. In this theory, he differentiated between Wahrnehmungszeichen ("Indication of perception"), Unbewusstein ("the unconscious") and Vorbewusstein ("the Preconscious"). From this point forward, Freud no longer used the term "subconscious" because, in his opinion, it failed to differentiate whether content and the processing occurred in the unconscious or preconscious mind.
Carl Jung said that since there is a limit to what can be held in conscious focal awareness, an alternative storehouse of one's knowledge and prior experience is needed. This alternative storehouse is often referred to as the subconscious.
In the social sciences, the term subconscious, was resurrected in an article by Stajkovic, Locke, and Blair (2006) who referred to subconscious motivation as occurring "without intention, awareness, and conscious guidance." A review of early research on the subconscious can be found in Latham, Stajkovic, and Locke (2010).
Scholars have used other adjectives with similar meanings, such as unconscious, preconscious, and nonconscious, to describe mental processing without conscious awareness. The distinctions among these terms are subtle, but the term subconscious refers to both mental processing that occurs below awareness, such as the pushing up of unconscious content into consciousness, and to associations and content that reside below conscious awareness, but are capable of becoming conscious again.
Selecting one exclusive term presents theoretical tradeoffs, and empirical evidence does not yet exist to point exactly where the threshold of "below" or "without" consciousness is, because parts of the process are transitory.
"New Age" and other modalities targeting the subconscious
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The idea of the subconscious as a powerful or potent agency has allowed the term to become prominent in New Age and self-help literature, in which investigating or controlling its supposed knowledge or power is seen as advantageous. In the New Age community, techniques such as autosuggestion and affirmations are believed to harness the power of the subconscious to influence a person's life and real-world outcomes, even curing sickness. Skeptical Inquirer magazine criticized the lack of falsifiability and testability of these claims. Physicist Ali Alousi, for instance, criticized it as unmeasurable and questioned the likelihood that thoughts can affect anything outside the head. In addition, critics have asserted that the evidence provided is usually anecdotal and that, because of the self-selecting nature of the positive reports, as well as the subjective nature of any results, these reports are susceptible to confirmation bias and selection bias.
Psychologists and psychiatrists use the term "unconscious" in traditional practices, where metaphysical and New Age literature, often use the term subconscious. It should not, however, be inferred that the concept of the unconscious and the New Age concept of the subconscious are precisely equivalent, even though they both warrant consideration of mental processes of the brain. Psychologists and psychiatrists take a much more limited view of the capabilities of the unconscious than are represented by New Age depiction of the subconscious. There are a number of methods in use in the contemporary New Age and paranormal communities that affect the latter:
- Collective unconscious
- Rapid eye movement sleep
- Non-rapid eye movement sleep
- Slow-wave sleep
- Unconscious mind
- American Psychological Association
- History of hypnosis
Notes and references
- Henri F. Ellenberger, The Discovery of the Unconscious (1970)
- Freud, Sigmund (1893). « Quelques considérations pour une étude comparative des paralysies organiques et hystériques ». Archives de neurologie, citation in Psychanalyse (fondamental de psychanalyse freudienne), sous les directions d'Alain de Mijolla & Sophie de Mijolla Mellor. Paris, P.U.F, 1996, p. 50.
- Laplanche, Jean; Pontalis, Jean-Bertrand (1988) . "Subconscious (pp. 430-1)". The Language of Psycho-analysis (reprint, revised ed.). London: Karnac Books. ISBN 978-0-946-43949-2. ISBN 0-94643949-4.
- Freud, Sigmund (1966). The Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud Volume I (1886-1899) Pre-Psychoanalytic Publications and Unpublished Drafts. Hogarth Press Limited.
- Freud, Sigmund (Vienna 1926; English translation 1927). The Question of Lay Analysis.
- Freud, Sigmund (1955). The Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Volume II (1893 - 1895). The Hogarth Press.
- Jung, Carl (1964). "Approaching the unconscious". Man and his Symbols. Doubleday. p. 37. ISBN 0-385-05221-9.
Such material has mostly become unconscious because — in a manner of speaking — there is no room for it in the conscious mind. Some of one's thoughts lose their emotional energy and become subliminal (that is to say, they no longer receive so much of our conscious attention) because they have come to seem uninteresting or irrelevant, or because there is some reason why we wish to push them out of sight. It is, in fact, normal and necessary for us to "forget" in this fashion, in order to make room in our conscious minds for new impressions and ideas. If this did not happen, everything we experienced would remain above the threshold of consciousness and our minds would become impossibly cluttered.Compare memory.
- Stajkovic, A.D., Locke, E. A., & Blaire, E. (2006). "A first examination of the relationships between primed subconscious goals, assigned conscious goals, and task performance". Journal of Applied Psychology. 5: 1172–1180. doi:10.1037/0021-9010.91.5.1172.
- Latham, G., Stajkovic, A.D., & Locke, E.A. (2010). "The Relevance and Viability of Subconscious Goals in the Workplace". Journal of Management. 36: 234–255. doi:10.1177/0149206309350777.
-  Archived July 26, 2009, at the Wayback Machine.
- Whittaker, S. Secret attraction Archived 2016-03-04 at the Wayback Machine., The Montreal Gazette, May 12, 2007.
- Kaptchuk, T., & Eisenberg, D. (1998). "The Persuasive Appeal of Alternative Medicine". Annals of Internal Medicine. 129 (12): 1061–5. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-129-12-199812150-00011. PMID 9867762.
- In his ("New Thought") work Power of Your Subconscious Mind (1963), Joseph Murphy likens the workings of the subconscious mind to a syllogism. Murphy states (p. 43), "whatever major premise your conscious mind assumes to be true determines the conclusion your subconscious mind comes to in regard to any particular question or problem in your mind." This means that if your major premise is true, then the conclusion that follows your premise must be true also. He shares the following formula.
"Every virtue is laudable;
Kindess is a virtue;
Therefore, kindness is laudable."
Murphy argues that because your subconscious mind operates like a syllogism one can reap great benefits by utilizing a powerful and positive major premise. He also warns that the opposite could hold true: if one uses a negative, self-defeating major premise, one could reap horrible consequences.
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