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Awareness of Unawareness Folk Psychology and Introspective Transparency

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A tradition of work in cognitive science indicates that much of our mental lives is not available to introspection (e.g. Nisbett and Wilson, 1977; Gopnik, 1993; Wegner, 2002). Though the researchers often present these results as surprising, little has been done to explore the degree to which people presume introspective access to their mental events. In this paper, we distinguish two dimensions of introspective access: (i) the power of access, i.e. whether people believe they can unfailingly or only typically introspect mental events; and (ii) the domain of access, i.e. what types of mental events people believe they are able to introspect. We report five experiments carried out to discover where lay beliefs about introspection fall on these dimensions. In our experiments, people did not presume universal introspective access, but they did overestimate the amount of access they actually have, particularly in the case of decisions.

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Philosophy, University of Arizona, Email:

Publication date: January 1, 2011


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