Dual-Process Theories and Consciousness: The Case for ‘Type Zero’ Cognition

Nicholas James Shea, Chris Frith

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A step towards a theory of consciousness would be to characterise the effect of consciousness on information processing. One set of results suggests that the effect of consciousness is to interfere with computations that are optimally performed non-consciously. Another set of results suggests that conscious, system 2 processing is the home of norm-compliant computation. This is contrasted with system 1 processing, thought to be typically unconscious, which operates with useful but error-prone heuristics.

These results can be reconciled by separating out two different distinctions: between conscious and non-conscious representations, on the one hand, and between automatic and deliberate processes, on the other. This pair of distinctions is used to illuminate some existing experimental results and to resolve the puzzle about whether consciousness helps or hinders accurate information processing. This way of resolving the puzzle shows the importance of another category, which we label ‘type 0 cognition’, characterised by automatic computational processes operating on non-conscious representations.
Original languageEnglish
JournalNeuroscience of Consciousness
Publication statusPublished - 9 May 2016


  • consciousness
  • unconscious processing
  • theories and models
  • function of consciousness
  • dual processing


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