Cognitive Social Psychology: The Princeton Symposium on the Legacy and Future of Social Cognition

By Gordon B. Moskowitz | Go to book overview

21
Gordon B. Moskowitz
Princeton University

Preconscious Control and Compensatory Cognition

It is a general principle in Psychology that consciousness deserts all processes when it can no longer be of use. The tendency of consciousness to a minimum of complication is in fact a dominating law … Now if we analyze the nervous mechanism of voluntary action, we shall see that by virtue of this principle of parsimony in consciousness the motor discharge ought to be devoid of sentience. If we call the immediate psychic antecedent of a movement the latter's mental cue, all that is needed for invariability of sequence on the movement's part is a fixed connection between each several mental cue, and one particular movement. For a movement to be produced with perfect precision, it suffices that it obey instantly its own mental cue and nothing else, and that this mental cue be incapable of awakening any other movement. Now the simplest possible arrangement for producing voluntary movements would be that the memory-images of the movement's distinctive peripheral effects, whether resident or remote, themselves should constitute the mental cues, and that no other psychic facts should intervene or be mixed up with them.

– James (1890/1950, pp. 496–497)

Control is typically equated with deliberate, conscious, and effortful exertion of the will. By its common use it would seem that a controlled process is the opposite of an automatic process. But can control, volition, and goal pursuit occur automatically? The possibility that automaticity and control are not polar opposites is neither a radical nor novel thought (see, Bargh, 1990; James, 1890/1950, above). The cocktail party effect is a good example of individuals preconsciously scanning the environment for information relevant to the self, presumably because this is information they are motivated to detect. Postman, Bruner, and McGinnies (1948) found that words that people valued were perceived more readily (lower thresholds of recognition) than words less valued, despite these words being presented outside of conscious awareness. Similarly, Kelly (1955) discussed individuals as scanning the environment for “blips of meaning.” In the early years of the cognitive revolution in social psychology, Markus (1977) showed words relevant to the self-concept were responded to more quickly on a reaction time task, whereas Higgins, King, and Mavin (1982) and Bargh (1982) found that self-relevant words that were chronically accessible to individuals guided attention and judgment. What these experiments share is a notion of chronicity: Although some deal with the self-concept, others with values, and yet others with volition, they all posit that, over time and with practice, these concepts come to operate prior to conscious awareness and without conscious intent.

The current chapter examines the issue of whether goals are activated and operate preconsciously, extending this discussion to temporary goals (as opposed to those that are chronically accessible). Temporary goals are posited to have preconscious effects when (a) triggered directly by cues in the environment (due to associative links between the goal and its relevant cues; e.g., Ach, 1935; James, 1890/1950) and (b) a discrepancy between one's desired and actual level of goal attainment triggers cognitive activity aimed at reducing this discrepancy and focuses the cognitive system toward goal relevant stimuli (a process labeled compensatory cognition).

The reason the notion of preconscious control does not seem intuitively obvious is partly a problem of language. Definitions of control, volition, intention, and goals (see below) typically mention conscious choice as a central feature. But the belief that control is conscious and effortful is not merely based on the use of these words in the vernacular. This assumption is also made explicit by models in social psychology that place control on the opposing endpoint of a continuum with automatic processing. And this conception of control is not unique to social psychology, but has its roots in cognitive psychology, where social-psychological approaches to automaticity evolved (e.g., Posner & Snyder, 1975).

Before addressing the adequacy of a dichotomous conceptualization of control and automaticity, and the more intriguing question of whether control can be automatic, we must first address what is meant by automaticity and control.

-333-

Notes for this page

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this book

This book has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this book

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this page

Cited page

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited page

Bookmark this page
Cognitive Social Psychology: The Princeton Symposium on the Legacy and Future of Social Cognition
Table of contents

Table of contents

Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this book

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen
/ 503

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.