questions the nature of intention in human behavior
our actions as intentional as we think they are? Or are our conscious
minds merely a tip of an enormous iceberg of our unconscious selves
that governs our behavior, for all that we think and plan and
are among the questions sixth-year psychology
graduate student Thalia Wheatley has been posing in her research
on consciousness and intentionality.
"We tend to think of ourselves as consciously driven, and
we reason about things, but that's such a small factor in determining
our actions," she said.
does a series of experiments where she makes people think they
intended certain actions they actually had no intention of performing
or didn't even perform, she said.
experiment she designed has caused a bit of a stir: her adviser,
psychology professor Daniel M. Wegner, has presented it at five
conferences, two of which she's attended, and they co-authored
a paper on it that was recently published in American Psychologist.
the experiment, in which two people move a computer mouse, placing
the cursor on the screen on different objects, she studies whether
participants can be confused into thinking they not only moved
the mouse when they didn't, but also that they did it intentionally.
In another experiment, she uses hypnosis to make participants
feel a pang of disgust whenever they read or hear the word "take,"
having them read stories about corruption, incest, shoplifting,
etc. Participants rate stories with "take" in them as
more disgusting and morally wrong than other stories, Wheatley
ensure it is the word triggering their disgust, afterwards she
asks each participant, "Would you like to take a cookie?"
Participants who are told to feel disgust at the word "take"
don't want any cookies, whereas those in the control group have
no problem accepting the cookie.
in a third experiment, she hypnotizes people to cover their ears
when they hear a certain soft noise, and then, after they are
out of hypnosis, she plays the noise and sees how they react.
cover their ears and ... look confused and have a hard time explaining
why they did it," she said. But if she initially tells them
they will hear some feedback as she adjusts their microphone,
they use that excuse to explain their action, regarding it as
intentional, she said.
we can manipulate what people think are the reasons for their
behavior and how intentional their actions feel, [we can conclude]
that consciousness is not a perfectly accurate readout for our
behavior," she said.