From what I know, we use the term 'subconscious' to refer to the things that we can bring into our conscious. and, we use the term 'unconscious' for things that we can't know, they come automatically to our mind without having to think.

So, I was reading this question on meta and it seems that we don't use the term 'subconscious' to refer to the processes that occur outside of our conscious awareness. How do we put everything together if we disregard that term?


2 Answers 2


The confusion originates from Sigmund Freud who initialized the field with his idea of the unconscious mind. Freud was of course Austrian, and used the terms das Unbewusste and das Vorbewusste. These are most accurately translated to unconscious and preconscious. The latter is the technical term for what you called 'subconscious'.

The word 'subconscious' is usually frowned upon in academic settings (because it is often unclear if it is talking about the unconscious or the preconscious). However, it is very popular in the everyday lexicon and thus creeps into scientific writing as well.

You can introduce further distinctions (such as subliminal) and if you want a nice and thorough modern treatment of all three terms in the context of visual processing, then I recommend:

Dehaenea, S., Changeux, J.-P., Naccachea, L., Sackura, J., and Sergent, C. (2006) "Conscious, preconscious, and subliminal processing: a testable taxonomy" Trends in Cognitive Sciences 10(5): 204-211. (pdf)

  • $\begingroup$ So, should we use the term 'preconscious' when we are talking about our 'subconscious' in academic and scientific settings? $\endgroup$
    – cpx
    Jun 3, 2012 at 0:10
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @cpx the whole point of the vagueness of 'subconscious' in everyday use is that it is not clear what people mean when they say it. Sometimes they mean 'preconscious' and sometimes they mean 'unconscious' (and sometimes they mean something else completely). They way you used 'subconscious' in your question (and as I already explained in my answer) is more-or-less the same as the technical term 'preconscious'. $\endgroup$ Jun 3, 2012 at 0:13

The word subconscious is rarely used in scientific terminology, it is widespread in popular culture, where it is used alternately as a synonym for unconscious or preconscious.

Freud used to identify the dynamic unconscious with the process of removal. Today, a lot of psychologist use the term "unconscious" to refer to a wide range of processes that are not necessarily considered part of the removal (Lyons-Ruth 2004; trad.it. 2012, 56). I think that when we talk about unconscious we should delineate what we are referring to a little more precisely. For example, we have a procedural memory which is not conscious but not "actively restrained out of the consciousness by the force of removal" (Amedei G., Cavanna D., e Zavattini G.C, 2015)

I recommend: Amedei G., Cavanna D., e Zavattini G.C, [Psicologia dinamica]: https://www.mulino.it/isbn/9788815245670 and this article about [procedural memory]: https://www.livescience.com/43595-procedural-memory.html


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