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Experience, Meta-consciousness, and the Paradox of Introspection

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Introspection is paradoxical in that it is simultaneously so compelling yet so elusive. This paradox emerges because although experience itself is indisputable, our ability to explicitly characterize experience is often inadequate. Ultimately, the accuracy of introspective reports depends on individuals' imperfect ability to take stock (i.e., to become meta- conscious) of their experience. Although there is no ideal yardstick for assessing introspection, examination of the degree to which self-reports systematically covary with the environmental, behavioural, and physiological concomitants of experience can help to establish the correspondence between meta-consciousness and experience. We illustrate the viability of such an approach in three domains, imagery, mind-wandering, and hedonic appraisal, identifying both the situations in which introspections appear to be accurate and those in which they seem to diverge from underlying experience. We conclude with a discussion of the various factors (including issues of detection, transformation, and substitution) that may cause meta-consciousness to misrepresent experience.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2004-01-01

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