The research in a way is quite similar to Daniel Kahneman’s research. But the stress on unconscious mind is quite a read.
Martha Lagace: What do you mean by unconscious thought?
Maarten Bos: We define unconscious thought as a goal-dependent, deliberative process in the absence of conscious attention. Most people attribute a lot of their actions to a conscious process, but there are scores of processes that operate unconsciously. Getting dressed in the morning, for example, is largely an unconscious process. So is driving to work—many people get to work without entirely remembering how their drive was and what they saw on the road.
Lots of processes are automated and therefore very efficient. Our research shows thinking and deciding can also often be left successfully to the unconscious mind.
Here is an example of unconscious thought. Imagine you are listening to a song and can’t remember the name of the artist. You try to think hard, but are still unable to come up with it. So you tell yourself, “I’ll stop thinking about it, and it will come to me in a minute.” This is fascinating. In fact, there is an automatic process that continues to work on your question in the back of your mind. We call that process “unconscious thought.”
Unconscious thought can do more than just help you remember facts. It actually has the power to fuel the creative process. Have you ever found yourself struggling with the wording while writing a paper, but after taking time away from it, you’re able to quickly find the right words? This is your unconscious mind at work.
While our conscious mind is focused on other matters, our unconscious mind can process the relevant information we need to make important decisions.
She discusses her super exciting research. The future is even more exciting:
Q: What are you working on next?
A: These are very exciting times. There is so much to do! One question we are investigating is which sleep phases are most sensitive to these conditioned cues I just mentioned. Replaying a cue all night might make the cue less effective. (Imagine putting on cologne in the morning. After about 20 seconds you don’t smell it anymore because you’ve gotten used to it.) We don’t know if this replaying affects the effectiveness of the cue. We also don’t know if people get used to sounds or music in the same way. If we find out in which sleep phase these cues are most effective, then we may learn more about memory processing during sleep. We also need to do more research to find out if sleep quality is adversely affected by the cues, but no results so far indicate that sleep is disrupted.
Another route we’re investigating is whether this cue-activated boost works for decision making like it did for creativity. Creativity can be a very divergent process, while decision making is a more convergent process. We don’t know for sure if sleep works the same, or as beneficially, for both of these processes.
..I’ll leave you with this. We sleep about a quarter to a third of our lives. Imagine how powerful it would be if we could make that time more useful? If the reactivation works the way we think it does—and the way our data show it works—then the applications are endless. We could tap into the vast potential of the unconscious, while we’re comfortably sleeping in our beds.
Hope HBSWK keeps updating us on the recent findings…