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  • Writer's pictureJasper Momma

The unconscious mind. A blessing and a curse!

The mind is a strange calculator. It cannot delete, divide or subtract, only add and multiply. Everything is stored and processed, but this information is generally not readily available to our consciousness.

Our mind operates largely below the surface of awareness. It is often represented by an iceberg with the "tip of the iceberg" above the water representing the conscious part of our awareness, while everything below the water represents the unconscious mind. The mind delegates most of its repetitive tasks to an ‘automated program’, comparable to the automatic pilot of a plane. In that subconscious mode, we can accomplish many tasks without bothering the conscious part of our mind at all. How exhausting would it be if our daily activities such as walking, driving or cooking were fully the task of the conscious mind?

A large part of the mind’s operational mode is not accessible consciously, yet it exerts influence over our behaviour. It can be frightening to realise that we neither control its unconscious learning nor the behaviour that results from that conditioning.

The famous Russian physiologist and Nobel Prize winner, Ivan Pavlov, is probably the most cited for his work on classical conditioning of the unconscious mind. He rang a bell each time he fed his dogs, thus causing them to associate the sound of the bell with the experience of food. His “conditioned” dogs responded to the sound of a bell with intense salivation, just as they would react to actual food.

Their mind was fooled by the bell, causing them to behave as if it was actual food. Pavlov showed us how our mind is conditioned unconsciously through association.

In 2007, an extensive 2-year study was concluded at the University of Minnesota, examining how ceiling height affected individual performance. Higher ceilings stimulated more “out of the box”, creative thought patterns, while lower ceilings encouraged attention and focus. Other studies showed that placing objects in a room together with the test subjects affected their judgement subconsciously. Test subjects reacted differently to the same situation when a briefcase or a backpack was placed passively in the room. Countless similar studies have shown that stimuli we are exposed to every day can have a tremendous impact on our subconscious mind and our behaviour. The whole industry of marketing is based on this capacity to influence our minds with sounds, colours, music and pleasant associations with a product.

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