We may have less control over our thoughts than previously assumed -- ScienceDaily
Morsella and the other researchers conducted two experiments with SF State students. In the first experiment, 35 students were told beforehand to not count an array of objects presented to them. In 90 percent of the trials, students counted the objects involuntarily. In a second experiment, students were presented with differently colored geometric shapes and given the option of either naming the colors (one set) or counting the shapes (a different set). Even though students chose one over the other, around 40 percent thought about both sets.
"The data support the view that, when one is performing a desired action, conscious thoughts about alternative plans still occupy the mind, often insuppressibly," said Morsella.
Understanding how sets work could have implications for the way we absorb information -- and whether we choose to act or not. We think of our conscious minds as private and insulated from the outside world, says Morsella. Yet our "insulation" may be more permeable than we think.
"Our conscious mind is the totality of our experience, a kind of 'prime real estate' in the cognitive apparatus, influencing both decision-making and action," Morsella said.
The new study demonstrates that it's actually quite easy to activate sets in people and influence what occupies the brain's "prime real estate."
"The research shows that stimuli in the environment are very important in determining what we end up thinking about and that once an action plan is strongly activated its many effects can be difficult to override," said Morsella.