Reading and doing arithmetic nonconsciously

Asael Y. Sklar, Nir Levy, Ariel Goldstein, Roi Mandel, Anat Maril, Ran R. Hassin*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

183 Scopus citations


The modal view in the cognitive and neural sciences holds that consciousness is necessary for abstract, symbolic, and rule-following computations. Hence, semantic processing of multiple-word expressions, and performing of abstract mathematical computations, are widely believed to require consciousness. We report a series of experiments in which we show that multiple-word verbal expressions can be processed outside conscious awareness and that multistep, effortful arithmetic equations can be solved unconsciously. All experiments used Continuous Flash Suppression to render stimuli invisible for relatively long durations (up to 2,000 ms). Where appropriate, unawareness was verified using both objective and subjective measures. The results show that novel word combinations, in the form of expressions that contain semantic violations, become conscious before expressions that do not contain semantic violations, that the more negative a verbal expression is, the more quickly it becomes conscious, and that subliminal arithmetic equations prime their results. These findings call for a significant update of our view of conscious and unconscious processes.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)19614-19619
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number48
StatePublished - 27 Nov 2012


  • Automaticity
  • CFS
  • Onconscious processes


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