Performance and Material-Dependent Holistic Representation of Unconscious Thought: A Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging Study

Tetsuya Kageyama, Kelssy Hitomi dos Santos Kawata, Ryuta Kawashima, Motoaki Sugiura

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


Psychological research has demonstrated that humans can think unconsciously. Unconscious thought (UT) refers to cognitive or affective decision-related processes that occur beyond conscious awareness. UT processes are considered more effective in complex decision-making than conscious thought (CT). In addition, holistic representation plays a key role in UT and consists of a multimodal, value-related cognitive process. While the neural correlates of UT have recently been investigated, the holistic representation hypothesis of UT has not been confirmed. Therefore, in the present study, we aimed to further evaluate this hypothesis by utilizing two UT tasks (person and consumer-product evaluations) in conjunction with an improved functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) experimental protocol. Participants evaluated four alternatives with 12 attributes each. In the UT condition, once the decision information had been presented, the participants completed a 1-back task for 120 s and evaluated each alternative, as well as an independent 1-back task in the absence of any decision information. We then performed regression analysis of the UT performance in both tasks. Our results revealed a positive correlation between performance in the UT task and the use of the anterior part of the precuneus/paracentral lobule in the person evaluation task and between performance and the posterior part of the precuneus, postcentral gyrus, middle occipital gyrus, and superior parietal lobule in the consumer-product evaluation task. The involvement of the precuneus area in both tasks was indicative of a multimodal, value-related process and is consistent with the features of holistic representation, supporting a central role for holistic representation in UT. Furthermore, the involvement of different precuneus subregions in the two UT tasks may reflect the task dependency of the key representation critical for advantageous UT.

Original languageEnglish
Article number418
JournalFrontiers in Human Neuroscience
Publication statusPublished - 2019 Dec 6


  • decision-making
  • fMRI
  • holistic representation
  • multimodal function
  • unconscious thought


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