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The Human Nature Review Human Nature Review  2002 Volume 2: 298-299 ( 22 July )
URL of this document http://human-nature.com/nibbs/02/gelder.html

Book Review

Out of Mind: Varieties of Unconscious Processes
Edited by Beatrice de Gelder, Edward de Haan and Charles Heywood
Oxford University Press, 2002.

Reviewed by Jonathan Smallwood, Department of Psychology, 40 George Street, Graham Hills Building, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, G1 1QE, United Kingdom.

Out of Mind is an edited book that provides a broad overview of the state of current research into unconscious processing. One particularly important aspect of the book is not only the breadth of subject matter included in the volume but the eclectic nature of the theoretical positions advanced by the authors of individual chapters. My enduring impression of the work presented therein was that many of the authors had a thorough knowledge of several areas of literature and had attempted to synthesise the work from different disciplines, including cognitive science, experimental and abnormal psychology. This eclectic theoretical standpoint affords a detailed and holistic reading of the subject matter.

Three chapters in this volume, in particular, provide striking examples of how this synthesis should be achieved. First, an extremely well written chapter by Lawrence Weiskrantz describes the results of an ongoing research programme which applies signal detection theory to the phenomenology of blindsight (Chapter Two). The second chapter, which reflects a similarly eclectic position, argues for the analysis of unconscious processing during neglect (Driver and Vuilleumier, Chapter Seven). Driver and Vuilleumier present a series of studies that examine the role of unconscious processing in the phenomenological experience of neglect patients. An important, yet surprising, conclusion of the Driver and Vuilleumier chapter, is that from the perspective of unconscious processing various similarities between neglect and blindsight can be generated. Finally, a very worthwhile taxonomic analysis of the differences between implicit and explicit memory is presented in Chapter Nine (Verfaeillie and Keane). A rational analysis of the relevant literature in the field of the implicit/explicit dimension is presented and perhaps the most important conclusion is that research from the field of healthy individuals, animals and brain damaged individuals does not always yield the same conclusions. Given the importance of clarifying exactly how unconscious processing differs from its conscious counterpart, this cross discipline research may provide a very reliable method of inquiry.

The book, as a whole, is divided into four distinct sections each emphasising a different component of unconscious processing.: (i) Visual Perception, (ii) Attention and Memory, (iii) Emotion and (iv) Action. The majority of the book is directed towards answering issues in the first two sections. Whilst this is understandable as historically these areas have been strongly associated with questions of unconscious processing, it would have been interesting to have more detail, particularly in the last section (Action). Notwithstanding, Out of Mind does provide an important overview of many of the influences on unconscious processing and is, therefore, suitable for both the researcher and the student alike.

In my opinion this is an important book in the area of unconscious processing as it reflects the current state of the art. What makes this text stand out from its rivals is the central place afforded to research which synthesises different unconnected domains of psychological inquiry. As the 21st century begins, the work of the authors presented in Out of Mind may begin to provide the building blocks for a psychology of the unconscious based on an empirical rather than rational premise.

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© Jonathan Smallwood.


Smallwood, J. (2002). Review of Out of Mind: Varieties of Unconscious Processes edited by Beatrice de Gelder, Edward de Haan and Charles Heywood. Human Nature Review. 2: 298-299.

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