In behavioral experiments we get the first-person responses of the participants. The third-person perspective is available through the collected data. There is a second-person perspective collected through interviews.

In a recent study, I analysed the response to affective audio files that have not been recognized by the participants to belong to the emotions they were depicting. Thus the first-person perspective failed. At the same time we were recording the electrodermal responses to these stimuli and received closer results to the stimuli's affective quality. The second-person interviews result was also similar to the first-person perspective. In terms of consciousness, I guess, the electrodermal responses fall under the unconscious (non-conscious) level, while the first-person and second-person perspectives are conscious.

Are there models that accommodate all these levels of analysis?

  • $\begingroup$ Although your question is about theoretical frameworks, I think a more direct answer comes from considering issues surrounding measurement of conscious and subconscious processing. For a theoretical perspective I suggest looking up the sizeable literature concerning conscious and unconscious emotion processing, and possibly the cognition vs emotion literature. $\endgroup$ – Bronson Sep 7 '13 at 2:06

Studies examining unconscious perception usually rely on the experimental logic known as the dissociation paradigm (Reingold & Merikle, 1990), whereby the presence of subliminal perception is supported by a dissociation between two measures of perception. One measure is assumed to provide an index of subliminal perception whereas the other is assumed to index conscious awareness. The presence of subliminal processing is supported when changes in a critical stimulus effect the measure of subliminal processing, but the observer is unaware of either the presence or the changes in the critical stimulus.

For example, in the widely used masked priming paradigm, a lower case word is briefly presented (40 miliseconds) and replaced by a target word in capitals. Although the first word is rarely consciously perceived (measure of consciousness), recognition of the second word is faster when the two words are identical (e.g., star -> STAR), compared to when they are different (cope -> STAR). This pattern of results suggests that the first word is processed subliminally, and that this processing produces savings in how long it takes to process the target word.

Measures of conscious awareness are divided broadly into subjective and objective measures. Subjective measures are typically verbal reports of the observers' perceptual awareness during or after the task. Subjective reports can either be obtained with a direct question, or through a series of graded questions that gradually probe more specific aspects of an observers awareness. An experimenter might ask participants at the end of an experiment whether they were aware of any briefly presented stimuli, whether they noticed any patterns in the stimuli, or whether they developed particular strategies throughout the task. Objective measures are obtained through tasks and provide a numerical estimate of whether an observer was aware of a stimulus or implicit structure of a task. For example, observers might be asked to make a forced choice decision about a briefly presented stimulus to assess how visible the materials are.

Subjective measures are generally regarded to be unreliable, as participants may indicate that they are aware of a stimulus only when they are highly confident. This means that participants may neglect to mention instances where awareness was only partial. Another problem faced with subjective measures is that direct questioning during an experiment may draw participants attention toward the subliminally presented materials. Alternatively, participants may forget that they were aware of the critical stimulus if consciousness is assessed at the end of the testing session.

Although seen as more reliable, objective measures are associated with a number of limitations. Reingold and Merikle (1990) argue that a good measure of consciousness should be both exhaustive and exclusive. That is, the measure should index all components of conscious awareness (exhaustive), and should not index unconscious processes (exclusive). It is unclear whether objective measures are able to satisfy both of these criteria, as objective measures may only index a subset of the contents of consciousness (depending on the task instructions), and may also tap into unconscious processing. Another practical issue concerns how a lack of consciousness is estimated. Support for a lack of consciousness is obtained by showing that objective performance is at chance (e.g., guessing). This criterion is undesirable as this involves accepting the null hypothesis that participants were not aware, instead of rejecting the null hypothesis that participants were aware. Moreover, it cannot be guaranteed that participants will maintain motivation during a difficult task that consists mostly of guessing. In these cases participants may 'give up' and simply press buttons without considering the stimuli.

References E. Reingold, P. Merikle. (1990). Using direct and indirect measures to study perception without awareness, Perception & Psychophysics, 44, pp. 563–575

  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for the elaborate answer. I wonder whether there is a theoretical framework that would account for 1st, 2nd and 3rd person perspectives. $\endgroup$ – Dana Sugu Sep 11 '13 at 12:19
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    $\begingroup$ Basically, the 2nd and 3rd level map onto the measures of conscious awareness; with the 2nd level being an objective measure, and the 3rd level a subjective measure. So what you have is evidence of subconscious emotional evaluation of stimuli in the absence of conscious evaluation. So, in short, level 2 and level 3 are different measures of the same thing, consciousness. $\endgroup$ – Bronson Sep 11 '13 at 12:33
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    $\begingroup$ You could also look at Stanislas Deheane's model of consciousness, this sets up a taxonomy of mental processes in the brain. However, according to this model, level 1 would map onto subliminal processing, and levels 2 & 3 would map onto conscious processing $\endgroup$ – Bronson Sep 11 '13 at 12:34
  • $\begingroup$ Thank you again. I found Stanislav Deheane's 'The Global Neuronal Workspace Model of Conscious Access: From Neuronal Architectures to Clinical Applications' here: cs.helsinki.fi/u/ahyvarin/teaching/niseminar4/… $\endgroup$ – Dana Sugu Sep 11 '13 at 13:06

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