MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Dr. Ezequiel Morsella
Ezequiel Morsella, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Neuroscience
Department of Psychology
San Francisco State University
Assistant Adjunct Professor
Department of Neurology
University of California, San Francisco
Boardmember, Scientific Advisory Board
Institute of Cognitive Neurology (INECO),
MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?
Dr. Morsella: The study is based on Passive Frame Theory, which I discuss below in brief, and on ironic processing, in which one is more likely to think about something (e.g., white bears) when instructed to not think about that thing. Based on this research, the Reflexive Imagery Task (RIT) reveals that, following the activation of certain “action sets” (i.e., dispositions to act one way or another), conscious thoughts can arise involuntarily and systematically when one is presented with certain stimuli. In the most basic version of the RIT, subjects are presented with visual objects and instructed to not think of the names of the objects, which is challenging. In the new study, we show that the effect arises not only for automatic processes (e.g., forms of cued-memory retrieval) but also for processes involving more, in a sense, moving parts (e.g., symbol manipulation, in which symbols are mentally manipulated). In the study, subjects were first trained to perform a word-manipulation task similar to the game of Pig Latin (e.g., “CAR” becomes “AR-CAY”). This task involves complex symbol manipulations. After training, though participants were instructed to no longer transform stimulus words in this way, the RIT effect still arose on roughly 40% of the trials.
The present experiment provides additional evidence for Passive Frame Theory, a new, comprehensive and internally coherent framework that illuminates the role of conscious processing in the brain. Click here for more information about Passive Frame Theory: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/consciousness-and-the-brain/201604/passive-frame-theory-new-synthesis
Although consciousness is not “epiphenomenal” (meaning that it serves no function) or omnipresent (e.g., as in panpsychism, which states that consciousness is a property of all matter), in Passive Frame Theory, the role of consciousness is much more passive and less teleological (i.e., less purposeful) than that of other theoretical accounts. The framework reveals that consciousness has few moving parts and no memory, no reasoning, or symbol manipulation, which is relevant to the present study. Consciousness does the same thing, over and over, for various processes, making it seem that it does more than it does. Hence, consciousness, over time, seems to be more flexible than it actually is.