Does the brain process 95 percent of all information unconsciously?
The human mind works largely unconsciously. But why should it be exactly 95 percent of all information that remains hidden from our consciousness?
As you read this article, your gaze slides from left to right across the lines without you realizing it. You only notice it when you pay attention to it. The same applies to physical sensations. You are probably sitting. You only feel the pressure of the chair surface when you draw your attention to it. These examples illustrate that much of the information available to the brain we are not aware of. And that's a good thing: If we were constantly bombarded with unfiltered impressions, we would be hopelessly overwhelmed.
The receptor cells in our sensory organs continuously convert stimuli into nerve signals. On the one hand, this allows us to absorb information from the environment. We see, hear, feel, smell, taste, and we sense whether it is warm or cold, for example. On the other hand, the brain constantly receives updates about the state of the body - for example in relation to balance, the position of the extremities, but also hunger or pain.
Impressive figures sometimes haunt the media about how much of it our mind actually withholds from us. Sometimes it should be 90 percent, sometimes 95, sometimes even 99.9 percent. However, in order to quantitatively estimate how much information remains unconscious or, on the contrary, is processed consciously, we would need a clear definition of "information". In addition to all the input from the environment and one's own body that is available to the brain, it also has huge amounts of stored information. In addition to our knowledge of the world and memories of important events, different memory systems also store motor skills such as cycling and conditioned reactions that we have learned over the course of our lives.
Here it is completely unclear what constitutes information. Is the memory of an episode, such as your own driver's test, a unit of information, or does this episode consist of many elements, for example the name of the examiner, the color of the car or individual intersections that you drove through? Even the fact that information in the brain is represented by neural activity doesn't get us anywhere. To define the firing of a single nerve cell as a piece of information goes too far, because nerve cells also fire spontaneously without this directly serving to transmit information. This leaves the question: Which rate of neuronal activity in which neuron groups and with which frequency of activation does a piece of information represent?
Although an exact percentage cannot be calculated, one can confidently say that a large part of the processed data remains hidden from consciousness. After all, our experience is limited to one situation at any given time. However, because our attention is constantly jumping back and forth between different things, it is difficult to grasp when something is being consciously processed and when it is not. Accordingly, psychological research hardly deals with the question of how much unconsciously processed information there is. Instead, one examines whether and how unconscious and conscious information processing can be distinguished from one another.
In experiments on so-called priming, the participants are shown a visible target stimulus that is intended to provoke a specific reaction. Before that, however, another stimulus is inserted, the so-called prime, which has either the same or a different meaning than the target stimulus. However, the subject only sees this very briefly, so that he is not consciously aware of it. Many such studies have shown that unconscious stimuli, like conscious stimuli, elicit automatic responses, influence decisions, and act on cognitive control processes. However, they control our behavior less strongly and persistently than such information that penetrates the consciousness.