How (not) to underestimate unconscious perception

Mind and Language 38 (2):413-430 (2022)
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Studying consciousness requires contrasting conscious and unconscious perception. While many studies have reported unconscious perceptual effects, recent work has questioned whether such effects are genuinely unconscious, or whether they are due to weak conscious perception. Some philosophers and psychologists have reacted by denying that there is such a thing as unconscious perception, or by holding that unconscious perception has been previously overestimated. This article has two parts. In the first part, I argue that the most significant attack on unconscious perception commits the criterion content fallacy: the fallacy of interpreting evidence that observers were conscious of something as evidence that they were conscious of the task-relevant features of the stimuli. In the second part, I contend that the criterion content fallacy is prevalent in consciousness research. For this reason, I hold that if unconscious perception exists, scientists studying consciousness could routinely underestimate it. I conclude with methodological recommendations for moving the debate forward.

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Matthias Michel
New York University