Unconscious Emotion

Unconscious Emotion
Piotr Winkielman and Kent C. Berridge
University of California, San Diego, and University of Michigan
Current Directions in Psych Science

Conscious feelings have traditionally been viewed as
a central and necessary ingredient of emotion. Here we argue
that emotion also can be genuinely unconscious. We describe
evidence that positive and negative reactions can be elicited
subliminally and remain inaccessible to introspection. Despite
the absence of subjective feelings in such cases, subliminally
induced affective reactions still influence people’s preference
judgments and even the amount of beverage they consume. This
evidence is consistent with evolutionary considerations suggesting
that systems underlying basic affective reactions originated
prior to systems for conscious awareness. The idea of
unconscious emotion is also supported by evidence from affective
neuroscience indicating that subcortical brain systems underlie
basic ‘‘liking’’ reactions. More research is needed to clarify the
relations and differences between conscious and unconscious
emotion, and their underlying mechanisms. However, even under
the current state of knowledge, it appears that processes
underlying conscious feelings can become decoupled from processes
underlying emotional reactions, resulting in genuinely
unconscious emotion.

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