It's seems very likely to me that it does, but I haven't found any research that tested this assumption directly.

  • $\begingroup$ What do you mean by 'inhibiting automatic processing'? Could you give an example? $\endgroup$
    – Izhaki
    Commented Nov 25, 2015 at 22:34
  • $\begingroup$ In CBT they teach patients to control automatic negative distorted thoughts $\endgroup$
    – lior_
    Commented Nov 26, 2015 at 14:07

1 Answer 1


Terms - attention vs consciousness

I guess that by attention you mean:

The focus of our conscious process.

Until recently, neither attention nor consciousness were rigorously defined. But now you may find the following definitions:

  • Selective attention - a subconscious process that selects from a multitude of candidates the most salient one.
  • Consciousness - a cortex-global top-down process that has access to ,and controls lower-level processes.

The latter is actually termed conscious access and the whole definition is over-simplified, but will suffice for now.

On man, chicken and ANN

The problem with using the term attention is that while it's valid to say that a human attend to something (meaning that that something is the focus of consciousness), saying the same for a chicken is problematic - a chicken may attend to something yet we doubt it is conscious. We are pretty certain that worms aren't.

Further, it is fairly easy to build an artificial neural network that has a preference to this or that stimuli (by that given an impression of attentive selection), yet isn't capable of consciousness (ie, acyclic network).

Inhibiting automatic processes

That's really a fancy name to a change in behaviour. You may argue that not all behaviour is automatic - some is conscious-controlled, so let's stick to automatic behaviour.

Whether with humans, more so with chickens, and definitely with ANNs, a change in automatic behaviour is possible with neither attention nor consciousness (well... we wouldn't be here otherwise).

With humans, for example, you may have never paid attention (consciously processed) to the lips size of your co-worker, but you will notice a botox procedure. Other examples include people with slow and gradual deterioration of a particular brain function - where these people may be oblivious to the compensation processes their brain develops.

So you can inhibit automatic processes without attention or consciousness.

But consciousness is far more effective

However, our current understanding of consciousness also demonstrates that in its core is an amplified process far stronger and global than any automatic process. What's more, consciousness often involves many feedback iterations - so the process is not only stronger, but also longer.

This means that anything that have triumphed the selective attention competition and thus have entered our consciousness has a far greater potential to alter behaviour.

Levels of processing is probably a good demonstration of this.


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