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Unconscious learning processes: mental integration of verbal and pictorial instructional materials

Unconscious learning processes: mental integration of verbal and pictorial instructional materials This review aims to provide an insight into human learning processes by examining the role of cognitive and emotional unconscious processing in mentally integrating visual and verbal instructional materials. Reviewed literature shows that conscious mental integration does not happen all the time, nor does it necessarily result in optimal learning. Students of all ages and levels of experience cannot always have conscious awareness, control, and the intention to learn or promptly and continually organize perceptual, cognitive, and emotional processes of learning. This review suggests considering the role of unconscious learning processes to enhance the understanding of how students form or activate mental associations between verbal and pictorial information. The understanding would assist in presenting students with spatially-integrated verbal and pictorial instructional materials as a way of facilitating mental integration and improving teaching and learning performance. Keywords: Learning processes, Conscious processes, Unconscious processes, Mental representation, Instructional material, Working memory, Emotion, Motivation Introduction the integration of knowledge, skills, attitudes, and task How perceptual, cognitive, and emotional processes are competence is needed (Baartman and De Bruijn 2011). interconnected as a way of facilitating or inhibiting Learning processes and outcomes can be conscious human learning is a recurring issue in educational and and unconscious. The unconscious processes range from psychological studies. Learning processes mainly refer to registering information in the sensory memory to men- the interconnections between perception, memory, lan- tally forming associations within or between information guage, imagery, emotion, and motivation that allow patterns and activating associative memory networks, in- students to mentally build connections between verbal cluding individual expectations, beliefs, and desires and pictorial information patterns or between new and (Kowalski and Westen 2005). The unconscious can con- prior memories and integrate them with relevant know- duce to the acquisition, access, and application of know- ledge structures in long-term memory (Mayer and ledge without deliberate and controlled attention (Ashby Moreno 2003). Acquired knowledge structures refer to and Maddox 2005; Dienes and Perner 1999; Evans learning outcomes (Mayer 1989). A thorough under- 2008). On the contrary, a conscious learning process standing of how students mentally form the connections starts by deliberately paying attention to instructional or construct knowledge structures is important for the materials, noticing similarities and differences between improvement of teaching and learning performance words and their particular meanings with the help of (Ifenthaler and Seel 2011; Weinberger and Fischer relevant prior experience, thereby mentally building 2006). For the better understanding, further clarification coherent connections between them and organizing of cognitive and emotional learning processes towards them into new knowledge structures (Boshuizen and Schmidt 1992; Schmidt 1990). Thus, either conscious or unconscious learning is primarily a combination of men- * Correspondence: seffetu@gmail.com tal processes, referred to as a knowledge acquisition School of Educational Studies, Universiti Sains Malaysia, 11800 USM, Penang, Malaysia process, bringing memories into the mind, forming Full list of author information is available at the end of the article © 2013 Kuldas et al.; licensee Springer. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. Kuldas et al. SpringerPlus 2013, 2:105 Page 2 of 14 http://www.springerplus.com/content/2/1/105 associations, retaining, and using them (Mayer and thereby facilitating the mental integration of verbal and Moreno 2003). A permanent change in mental associa- pictorial instructional materials (Kuldas et al. 2012). If tions (Ormrod 2003), in long-term memory (Schnotz the verbal materials are properly loaded with relevant and Kürschner 2007; Sweller and Sweller 2006), or a imagery values in the use of their contents and contexts, potential change in human behaviour is considered to be students can, consciously or unconsciously, form coher- learning (Walker 1996). ent mental representations, manipulating complex verbal When humans consciously or unconsciously engage in and visual information into an easy-to-grasp format learning activities inside or outside the classroom set- (Paivio 1991). Accurately designed instructional mate- ting, the effect of their potential emotions on learning rials ease the construction of mental representations, processes and outcomes is inevitable (Kowalski and which in turn facilitate knowledge acquisition (Ifenthaler Westen 2005; Moreno 2010). Emotion is deemed to be a and Seel 2011; Seel and Blumschein 2009). However, reaction to significant events or stimulus that prepares mental representations may unconsciously evoke task- action readiness or emotional behaviours (Scherer 2009). irrelevant thoughts and unnecessarily load visual and The human brain operates automatically and rapidly verbal working memory capacity. Moreover, the spatial to emotional stimuli, thereby generating unconscious integration itself can lead to an unnecessary load responses (Bargh and Morsella 2008; Öhman 2002; (Sweller et al. 1998). To control cognitive loads, students Whalen et al. 2004). Emotions are largely elicited by must be provided with an optimized instructional design unconscious evaluations (appraisals) of subjective emo- (Sweller 2010). tional experiences (Arnold 1960; Scherer 2001). Appraisal To enhance the understanding of how human learning processes are characteristically intuitive, immediate, and occurs and what leads to the challenges of conscious mostly outside conscious awareness (Arnold 1960), and are learning, the unconscious learning processes need to be not typically the product of conscious reasoning processes brought to light (Thompson 2004). Recognition of differ- (Robinson and Clore 2001). For instance, the appraisal ent forms of knowledge and associated psychological process underlying emotional attention, does not necessar- processes is essential for a proper understanding of the ily require a complex cognitive calculus, but often occurs human mind (Disessa 2002). For a better understanding, automatically, unconsciously, and effortlessly (Scherer the primary aim of this article is to examine unconscious 2009). Unconscious appraisals are mostly related to intrin- learning processes and outcomes, particularly in relation sic properties of a stimulus, such as pleasantness or un- to the mental integration of pictorial and verbal instruc- pleasantness, and to individual needs, values, and goals tional materials. This examination is broken down into (Scherer 1999). These appraisals generally lead to a motiv- five sections. First, the role of unconscious processes in ational effect (Scherer 2009). Emotional processing “acts as organizing the human memory and learning is set out. the on/off switch to motivation, which is the process by Second, the unconscious activation of associative mem- which goal-directed behavior is initiated and sustained ory networks and its effect on cognitive learning pro- either consciouslyorunconsciously” (Moreno 2010 p. 137). cesses is scrutinised. Third, the effect of unconscious Emotions evoked during learning affect the ways students mental representations on the acquisition of verbal and learn, such as perceiving their own ability to learn, and pictorial information is elaborated. Fourth, the relation guiding their attitudes toward engaging in similar learning of unconscious mental representations to conceptual activities (Howe 1998). learning processes is highlighted. In the final section, Thus, emotional/motivational processes intervene in conscious and unconscious processing capacity for the instructional influences on learning activities either con- mental integration of instructional materials is collated. sciously or unconsciously (Moreno 2010; Moreno and Mayer 2007). This intervention leads to challenges for How human memory acquires information: conducting teaching and learning activities. To over- Conscious and unconscious learning processes come such challenges, an essential educational objective One of the most challenging problems in educational is to render students conscious learners, allowing them and psychological studies on human memory and learn- to become conscious of their behaviour and learning ing is related to the role of conscious and unconscious outcomes. However, the bulk of perceptual, cognitive, processes (Schmidt 1990). In particular, existing litera- and emotional processes, and the organization of human ture provides scanty knowledge about how students con- memory are too complex to be dealt with consciously; sciously intervene in unconscious memory and learning therefore, conscious learning is unlikely to occur all the processes, including their wishes, needs, beliefs, and time (Lewicki et al. 1992). Conscious learning can be conflicts, thereby guiding their emotional and motiv- eased by unconscious learning processes that promptly ational behaviours (Gilhooley 2008). The less controver- and continually establish connections between the per- sial view in this regard is that perceptual, cognitive, and ceptual, cognitive, and emotional processes of learning, emotional processes are carried out unconsciously at the Kuldas et al. SpringerPlus 2013, 2:105 Page 3 of 14 http://www.springerplus.com/content/2/1/105 outset, and afterwards, possibly reach conscious pro- et al. 1999), associative and rule based (Smith and cesses (Bargh and Morsella 2008). Humans cannot con- DeCoster 2000), adaptive unconscious and conscious stantly be in control of information encoding, storage, (Wilson 2003), and impulsive and reflective (Strack and and retrieval processes or readily access and manipulate Deutsch 2004). In general, relevant evidence indicates the unconsciously processed information. On the con- that cognitive unconscious processes can lead to the un- trary, unconscious processes are not similarly limited. conscious acquisition of knowledge and freely influence Unconscious processing appears to be structurally and conscious learning processes and outcomes, but later on, functionally much more sophisticated than the con- this influence can be amenable to a conscious interven- scious by accessing and influencing conscious processes tion (Evans 2008). Learning processes are partially amen- (Bargh and Morsella 2008). able to a conscious intervention, such as conscious The common view on how human memory acquires awareness, conscious control, conscious intention, or de- information is that a limited amount of sensory informa- liberate attention (Anderson 1992; Anderson et al. tion (visual, auditory, olfactory, tactile, kinaesthetic, or 2004). A good part of information acquisition or the gustatory) is temporarily held in short-term memory, processes of human learning, ranging from perceptual herein organized by working memory, and, in part, per- information-processing to speech production, are not manently stored in long-term memory (Baddeley 1992). necessarily subject to conscious processing (Hasher and Short-term memory is transitory memory storage in Zacks 1984; Jacoby et al. 1992). which the working memory exercises a restricted cap- Cognitive learning processes are often manipulated by acity for performing a limited amount of information or perceptual (Andrade and Deeprose 2007) and emotional for organizing possible connections between and within unconscious processing (Epstein 1994). Perceptual un- information patterns (Hoffman et al. 2008). Through this conscious processing can be conceived as automatically limited capacity alone, students are unlikely to encode, perceiving and holding a restricted amount of sensory store, and retrieve every feature of information con- information patterns as well as perceptually priming sciously; they are likely to process and discern multiple existing memories. Perceptual processing can lead to the patterns of information unconsciously, parallel to the activation or retrieval of verbal memories even when conscious processing (Lewicki et al. 1992). one undergoes a surgical operation or general anaesthe- As a matter of fact, conscious processes (i.e. voluntary sia, that is, without his or her conscious awareness (see and controlled attention, awareness, and intention) are Andrade and Deeprose 2007; Deeprose and Andrade not persistently active to formulate or evaluate all per- 2006; Deeprose et al. 2004, 2005). In these studies, ceived information. Therefore, they are not essentially retrieval of the memories was detected after perceptual prerequisite in discerning every bit of information at the priming (i.e., auditory priming), presenting a word outset, but later are required to adjust, adapt, or inte- masked in background noise during surgery to detect grate a limited amount of information patterns into one the extent to which the subjects could identify accurately another (Anderson 1991; Anderson and Milson 1989; the word after the surgical operation. Either subliminally Schmidt 1990; Walsh and Anderson 2009). In addition, or supraliminally perceived stimuli can activate or direct any consciously or unconsciously formulated or dis- perceptual and cognitive responses when people are cerned pattern of information does not mean it is a awake, alert, and attentive without one having conscious complete or infallible evaluation (Jou 2011). Emotional awareness, control, or intention of encoding, storing, (e.g. fear, anger, pleasure, hopes, or desire) and sensory and retrieving information (forming mental associa- information are not amenable to a complete evaluation. tions), referred to as cognitive unconscious processing Even the conscious evaluation process itself, respecting (Kihlstrom 1987). The mental formation of association desirable and undesirable values of information, can dis- within or between information patterns can be uncon- sciously made in respect of their meanings, that is, to auto- tract the conscious mind from working on each experi- ence (Kim and Rehder 2011). matically engage in the identification and categorization of The distinction between cognitive processes that are similarities among meanings aswell asto insert consciously made meanings in the ones that are unconsciously made unconscious with constantly active functioning capacity and those that are conscious with limited functioning (Fu et al. 2010). During the formation or making meaning capacity refers to dual processing accounts of the human process, that is, before constructed meanings are fully reflected in the conscious mind, humans are unconsciously mind (Evans 2008; Stanovich 1999), such as implicit and explicit (Reber 1976), automatic and controlled guided by their past experiences, emotional states, expecta- (Schneider and Shiffrin 1977), experiential and rational tions, fixed habits, and preferred thoughts (Gilhooley 2008). (Epstein 1994), intuitive and analytic (Hammond 2010), They can unconsciously generate emotional responses to holistic and analytic (Nisbett et al. 2001), heuristic and an event or word stimulus based on relevant past experi- analytic (Evans 2006), heuristic and systematic (Chen ences (Smith and DeCoster 2000). The generation of Kuldas et al. SpringerPlus 2013, 2:105 Page 4 of 14 http://www.springerplus.com/content/2/1/105 affective responses to a stimulus and motivation for a 1995). Through this associative network, primed mem- related behaviour, such as approach or avoid, outside of ory is likely to spread activation to closely or remotely conscious processes, refers to emotional unconscious pro- connected memories, referred to as unconscious associa- cessing (Chen and Bargh 1999). These perceptual, cogni- tive priming (Ratcliff and McKoon 1981). Therefore, a tive, and emotional unconscious processes can facilitate or perceived information pattern can evoke pleasurable or inhibit each other’s performances in information processing unpleasurable thoughts (Bunce et al. 1999; Westen and learning activities (Kuldas et al. 2012). 2006). Humans unconsciously tend to avoid unpleasant In particular, a conscious intervention in emotional thoughts and maintain pleasant ones (Epstein 1992, processing, controlling the effect of desires, hopes, or 1994). The human mind can arrange thought processes fears on cognitive processes, on the ways one think, without conscious intervention (Westen 1998). behave, or learn, is unlikely to happen all the time This spreading activation serves to make associative (Bargh and Chartrand 1999; Bargh and Ferguson 2000; memory networks more available for further cognitive Bruinsma 2004; Meyer and Turner 2002). In addition, processing, facilitating access to memories (Anderson mainly due to the limited capacity of visual-sensory 1995). Unconscious associative networks, such as beliefs, information-processing; humans cannot consciously and wishes, thoughts, and unconscious procedures, such as simultaneously encode multiple information patterns; emotions, motives and defences, guide human behaviour, they must unconsciously supress or discard some visual affecting feeling states, flows of thoughts, and behav- patterns of information (Kastner and Ungerleider 2000). ioural tendencies (Westen 1999). When the unconscious If the patterns are associated with negative emotions, activation of a network leads to positive (e.g. curiosity) human unconsciously exert perceptual defence against and negative emotional states (e.g. mild anxiety), they them, supressing or even blocking sensory information facilitate learning performance. However, they inhibit that is emotionally disturbing (Dahl 2001; Pratto and learning when give rise to intense negative emotional states John 1991; Robinson et al. 2004; Taylor 1991). These (e.g. anxiety, panic, and insecurity) and related thoughts perceptual unconscious processes can activate several such as incompetence belief (Kuyper et al. 2000). cortical areas of the brain and bring wishes, fears, and Associative processes are also termed “implicit pro- changes into feeling states (Blanco and Soto 2009; cesses” instead of unconscious processes; but, it is not Öhman and Soares 1998; Siegel and Weinberger 2009). very clear how implicit processes differ from the uncon- These effects can mediate motivational and inferential scious since both of them work associatively in forming processes that produce inaccurate judgments or deci- memories and learning processes. Both the implicit and sions (Efklides 2006). However, to sustain or reflect on the unconscious processes are unintentional, and utilize the outcomes of these processes (e.g. making a choice, a the same associative network of memory and procedures goal pursuit), conscious control can be required. to mould feelings, thoughts, and behaviours (Gilhooley As a result, humans are frequently unaware of how 2008; Westen 1999). Therefore, the implicit and the un- they form and activate memories, being unconscious of conscious can be used interchangeably to refer to the forming associations between memories and their re- formation or activation of association within or between trieval processes (McCabe et al. 2011; Sid and Stanislas networks. 2007; Siegel and Weinberger 2009; Sohn et al. 2005; The unconscious associative network, without the Weinberger and Westen 2008). Conscious processing effective intervention of conscious awareness, conscious has a limited capacity to acquire information instantan- control, or conscious intention, can result in implicit eously and ceaselessly, and therefore, is likely to engage learning (see Bunce et al. 1999; Cleeremans et al. 1998; in preliminary unconscious information-processing stage Eraut 2000; Esteves et al 1994; Guo et al. 2011; Lewicki (Barsalou 2003; Libet 1999). Hence, the conscious pro- et al. 1987, 1992; Reber 1989, 1992; Rieber et al. 2004). cessing is unlikely to result in any kind of cognitive However, Hammonds (2006) argued that implicit learn- learning by obviating the need for the cooperation of un- ing occurs without verbal expression but not without conscious processing. This assertion is further elaborated attention; it demands either voluntary or involuntary at- upon in the following section. tention (Hartman et al. 1989; Willingham and Goedert- Eschmann 1999). As such, further investigations are The effect of unconscious activation of associative needed to understand how implicit learning pro- memory networks on cognitive learning processes cesses are dissociated from explicit learning pro- Human memory consists of information-processing cesses, thereby explaining how both of them require stages, such as encoding, storage, and retrieval, which attention (voluntary or involuntary), occur through are consciously or unconsciously associated with one an- associative networks, and significantly influence feel- other (Wong et al. 1997). Associated memories are men- ings, thoughts, and behaviours. Due to the difficulty tally represented in the form of a network (Anderson of such dissociation, the absence of verbal expression Kuldas et al. SpringerPlus 2013, 2:105 Page 5 of 14 http://www.springerplus.com/content/2/1/105 as the absence of voluntary attention is likely to be reports from the sensory organs; the reports on per- detected in a related study. ceived information patterns are probably not scattered Unconscious learning allows people to successfully across the brain aimlessly or randomly (Geary 2002). cope with the complexity of their learning tasks (Lewicki Human sensory organs and brain activities can be task et al. 1992), as well as with the activities of acculturation oriented (e.g. human survival) in the organization of and socialization, implicitly acquiring social skills with reports (Geary 2002; Sweller and Sweller 2006). respect to tolerable social behaviour, attitudes, and cul- Whilst humans are unconscious of how information is tural worldview (Lewicki et al. 1987; Reber 1992). Learn- being organized, their organisms, such as the brain and ing how to speak a native language, how to listen and sensory organs, seem to be conscious of their tasks, the interact with others, and how to use general problem information they form and the places to which they re- solving strategies are some examples of unconscious port on that information. Therefore, without resorting to learning, which is particularly conceived to be easily, a conscious process, such as intention, to raise questions rapidly, and unconsciously acquired biologically primary to perceived information, one can unconsciously ask knowledge (Sweller and Sweller 2006). Primary know- questions and seek answers without knowing the under- ledge structures are information categories that human lying factors of these behaviours (Chartrand and Bargh have evolved to acquire and use for processing biologic- 1996; Greenwald and Banaji 1995; Jacoby et al. 1992). ally secondary knowledge, such as learning to read and However, the recognition of both questions and answers write (Geary 2002). Humans have gradually evolved to may need a conscious process (e.g. controlled attention deal with secondary knowledge; hence, the manner in or conscious intention). Both conscious and unconscious which listening and speaking develop differs markedly processes can associatively initiate and sustain goal di- from the manner in which reading and writing is learned rected behaviour, such as decision making (Aarts and (Sweller and Sweller 2006). The unconscious acquisition Van Den Bos 2011; Custers and Aarts 2010). This and application of primary knowledge are formed evolu- conscious interference in the associative activities does tionarily prior to conscious learning activities, and are not mean that the conscious processes can completely not necessarily subject to conscious control or conscious deactivate automatic or unconscious processing in the intention when they promptly and continually produce brain to organize perceptual and cognitive processes of responses to surrounding stimuli, rely heavily on learning (Aizenstein et al. 2004). recognising an information pattern, improve the com- It is improbable that humans immediately and persist- plexity of information, or identify and disregard random ently prioritize conscious processes to evaluate and elements (Seger 1994). The outcomes of these activities verbalize personal experiences, either positively or nega- are more durable in memory, less affected by cognitive tively. There should be an automatic evaluation system insults (e.g. brain injury, dementia, or amnesia) and rela- for information processing when the conscious processes tively unaffected by errors or missing data (Seger 1994). are not performing effectively. Relying on auto-positive However, the outcomes or the activities may not be evaluations, humans tend to confront what is being completely be detached from voluntary or involuntary experienced, but avoid experiencing what was auto- attention and working memory capacity. negatively evaluated (Epstein 1994). These auto-evaluations Thus, cognitive learning processes are not solely re- can spontaneously construct and reactivate mental repre- stricted to the interference of conscious processing, con- sentations, which, in turn, build an interaction within and scious intention, conscious control, or conscious awareness between patterns of subjective experiences (Andersen et al. (Cleeremans et al. 1998; Scott and Dienes 2010). Conscious 1995). Spontaneously constructed mental representations processing can be ineffective in instantaneously and can guide thoughts and behaviours (Seel 2003) and, thus, continually guiding the learning processes from the first be responsible for the evaluation of information in the microsecond to see, hear, taste, or to feel (Anderson 1992). absence of effective conscious interference (Cohen et al. The following section serves to further elucidate these 1996). The interference of mental representations is not in- arguments. stantaneously accessible to the conscious processes, nor is it readily transformed into verbal expressions (Disessa and Human learning processes in the absence of Sherin 1998). Although mental representations can be conscious interventions: The role of unconscious constructed from both words and images; they are heavily mental representation influenced by the latter rather than the former (MacDonald Human sensory organs and the brain do not simply per- et al. 1992; Trueswell et al. 1994). ceive information patterns in a dispersed manner from One of the forms of mental representation is imagery the very beginning, but rather in a selected manner, ren- (Paivio 1986). Imagery can be a visual mode of the brain dering human organisms functional before conscious state (Kosslyn et al. 2001). However, it is not merely a intervention. The brain does not receive disorganized visual mode, but also a mode of quasi-visual phenomena. Kuldas et al. SpringerPlus 2013, 2:105 Page 6 of 14 http://www.springerplus.com/content/2/1/105 The quasi-perceptual experiences in other sensory psychology as well as in philosophy (Abell and Currie modes underlie kinaesthetic imagery, haptic imagery, or 1999; Von Eckardt 1988). olfactory imagery (see Bensafi et al. 2003; Klatzky et al. Unconscious representations can facilitate the integra- 1991; Stevens 2005). Mental imagery manifests through tion of illustrated verbal and visual information with one the perception of a real or unreal form of a physical another (i.e. the integration of maps, charts, graphics, di- object. Without the perception of a physical object, the agrams, film strips, slides, or pictures with texts in text- imagery is unlikely to take place in the brain (see books, classroom presentations, instructional manuals, Kosslyn 2005; O'Regan and Noë 2001; Pylyshyn 2003). and with computer based instructions), referred to as an Mental imagery can bring motivational and manipula- imagery style of learning (Clark and Paivio 1991; Kuldas tive effects of memories into memory processes (Kuldas et al. 2012). The learning style can render learners assist- et al. 2012). Imagery formation and its effects on the ance in interpreting and absorbing the meanings of information-processing stages may be monitored by information in an accelerating and retaining manner unconscious and conscious intention; the latter can be (Chun and Plass 1996; Kulhavy et al. 1993; Sadoski et al. based in a preliminary stage of the former (Henningsen 1997; Rieber 1990, 1991), improve their problem solving, 2010). Mental imagery can motivate people to achieve creative, and critical thinking skills (Paivio 1986). To this their desires, even if such a desire is not actually present end, instructional designs should properly be aligned to their senses (Kavanagh et al. 2005). However, such a with students’ expertise levels in cognitive learning tasks desire should address to a physical object unlike verbal to avoid overburdening their working memory capacity representations of abstract concepts, such as angle or (Schnotz and Kürschner 2007; Wallen et al. 2005). God. The imagery can enable people to avoid unpleasant Unconscious representations can play a facilitatory thoughts that unintentionally entered into whatever they role in the acquisition of conceptual knowledge and thus remember, expect, or learn (Faw 1997; Marks 1999). Im- in the occurrence of conceptual learning (Ziori and agery affects thought processes regardless of whether Dienes 2006), provided that educators pictorially illustrate they refer to past or present personal experiences (Paivio concepts in a manner closely referring to their contextual 1991). Therefore, imagery should be considered as a meanings (Paivio 2007). Mental representations allow certain type of mental representation, and not merely as students to acquire and make meanings consciously or a form of past experience. unconsciously (Winn 1987), requiring more or less con- In consequence, unconscious mental representations sciously accessible knowledge about what to acquire can be operative, either in the absence of or in the pres- (Dienes et al. 1991; Perruchet and Pacteau 1991). However, ence of conscious processes, thereby reducing conscious this requirement does not mean that making meaning of effort in the preparation and evaluation, acceptance or concepts with the help of their pictorial illustrations ne- rejection of information patterns, such as making mean- cessarily depends on effective conscious intervention ing of concepts. Thus, the unconscious processes can (Gambrell and Bales 1986; Paivio 2007). Deliberate in- organize memory, conceptual meanings, and consolidate terventions may remain ineffective in forming a con- the conscious processes of learning. nection between dissimilar features of illustrations; whereas, it can be relatively effective in the case of similar features (Borst and Kosslyn 2008). The role of unconscious mental representations in Illustrations help students to visualize the proper conceptual learning processes meaning of presented concepts (Dechsri et al. 1997; Human learning is manifested through multidimensional Heinich et al. 1999) before relying on their conceptual but interacting perceptual, cognitive, and emotional knowledge (Laufer and Sim 1985). Conscious knowledge processes. Any kind of learning is unlikely to occur cannot be instantaneously or constantly accessible and effectively without the interaction between prior know- applicable, mainly due to the limited deliberate attention ledge and cognitive abilities, and the emotional and mo- span and working memory capacity (Unsworth and tivational states of learners (Moreno 2010; Seel 2001). Engle 2007). On the contrary, an unconscious associ- ation between meanings and pictures of presented con- This interaction allows humans to grasp the reality of experiences, to generate ideas and concepts, and to set cepts can be formed through unconscious associative personal goals or interests. It can be frequently mediated networks because they are not necessarily dependent on working memory capacity (Anderson 1995). by unconscious mental representations, providing the memory with information forming at the abstract and If a concept does not properly refer to its common concrete levels based on both present and past experi- structural properties, such as form, content, context, ob- ject, and subject, there may appear many interpretations ences (Brewer and Schommer-Aikins 2006; Marks 1999; Sadoski et al. 1997). These effects of unconscious mental or several other potential meanings which can be made representations are one of the less controversial issues in from distinct mental representations of these properties Kuldas et al. SpringerPlus 2013, 2:105 Page 7 of 14 http://www.springerplus.com/content/2/1/105 (Clark and Paivio 1991; Schnotz 1993). As students ex- concepts appropriately loaded with imagery values, plore the illustrations of these structural properties to which are highly associated with the common structural find relevant information under specific guidance, they and functional properties (Danan 1992). will grasp comprehensive and persuasive meanings of This imagery learning generally refers to the visual what is being presented, resulting in effective teaching learning style that can enable students to integrate the outcomes (Lowe 1996; Stringer and Irwing 1998). Pre- common structural and functional properties with each senting information that is familiar to students or rele- other through representational, referential, and associa- vant to their prior knowledge can allow them to recall tive processes (Paivio 1991). Through representational the relevant content of information (Ranzijn 1991; Wolfe processing, a stimulus can implicitly activate corre- and Woodwyk 2010), even though students might infer sponding memories. For example, the concrete word another meaning onto which they have imposed person- “rose” can set the verbal memories in motion that trace alized interpretations or preferences (Vermunt 1998). and activate the corresponding image of the rose and Accordingly, the extent to which information about a vice versa, or an abstract word “love” can launch verbal concept closely or directly refers to its form, content, representations that raise personal expectations, happi- context, subject, or object, may facilitate its mental rep- ness or disappointment, providing the visualization of a resentation, thereby helping students to retain and re- cheerful or resentful face. This cross-activation refers to hearse it more easily. the referential processing through which the associative Rieber (1994) identified the common structural prop- processes may implicitly evoke many different images erties of concepts with attentional, affective, cognitive, and words from the one intended (Rieber 1994). How- and compensatory functions. The attentional function ever, human learning can occur more easily than without detects possible similarities between formerly and newly the interactions between referential and associative pro- learned concepts (Anderson 1993). Such a recall may cesses (Koren 1999). Learning these concepts through affect emotions and attitudes, referring to the affective the associative processes can be easier than without function, which is discerned by the cognitive function. these associations (Mayer 2003). Therefore, conceptual Students may have recourse to the compensatory func- learning can become more robust if it involves implicit tion to decode the discerned affective function. The representational, referential, and associative processes more concepts are concrete, the better the understand- (Mayer and Anderson 1992), because they can assist ing of their contents can be (Beishuizen et al. 2002) and students in interpreting, making meaning, and in the easier the visual illustrations of the common struc- comprehending insights into their educational experi- tural and functional properties representing their mean- ences (Paivio 1991). The role of these unconscious pro- ings can be achieved (Benson 1997). cesses is also readily observable in learning native However, most probably there is no particular mental languages (Chomsky 1986; Keenan et al. 1998), in get- representation and meaning permanently localized for a ting accustomed to social norms and forming cultural corresponding concept in the human mind (DiSessa worldviews and personal beliefs (Kulkofsky et al. 2010). 2006). The representation of a concept is variable during However, these unconscious processes might have one’s life span and might simply be affected by cognitive some inhibitory effects on conscious learning processes abilities, personal beliefs and experiences, and cultural by evoking-task irrelevant thoughts and leading students worldviews, as well as one’s age group and gender. The to devote their available working memory capacity to representations of the relationship within and between processing these thoughts. Unconscious processing can the common structural (i.e. form, content, context, bring not only a mark of past experiences, but also object, and subject) and functional (i.e. attentional, evaded or forgotten thoughts, into current emotional affective, cognitive, and compensatory) properties of states, behavioural tendencies, flow of thoughts, and into learning processes (Haggerty et al. 2010; Schacter 1992; concepts vary over time and from one situation to an- other. Accordingly, optimal meanings of concepts are Ziori and Dienes 2006). A series of studies on the use of not necessarily made from the ways students prefer to working memory demonstrated that negative emotions (e.g., sadness, hopelessness) brought task-irrelevant visualize the common structural and functional proper- ties of concepts (Heinich et al. 1999). Instead, students thoughts into conscious cognitive activities, thereby can better understand concepts, which are strongly asso- unnecessarily loading the available capacity, diverting at- tention from the task, and hampering memory perform- ciated with their properties more than those that are less or not associated at all (Koren 1999). Such strong associ- ance (Ellis et al. 1995, 1997a,1997b). Similar evidence ations increase the likelihood of retention and the facili- related to motivational factors of academic achievements tation of recalling concepts (Chun and Plass 1996; indicated that the striving of students for the avoidance Mayer 1997; Mayer and Anderson 1992). This can be of undesirable consequences of learning or of academic because of the imagery traces of verbal definitions; task performance triggered disruptive thoughts, such as Kuldas et al. SpringerPlus 2013, 2:105 Page 8 of 14 http://www.springerplus.com/content/2/1/105 those of failure or of appearing incompetent, increased optimal learning, they do not necessarily achieve this anxiety levels, and, thus, diverted their attention away purpose; mainly due to the limited cognitive capacity for from the demands of the task (Pekrun et al. 2009; conscious processing (Yuan et al. 2006), accessing and Linnenbrink and Pintrich, 2002; Senko et al. 2011). applying the knowledge and skills (Nelson 1996; However, such evidence can be very reliable and valid Veenman et al. 2004). Therefore, both educators and only if a detrimental effect of unconscious processing is students must rely on unconscious processing not only detected or identified apart from the effect of conscious to encode, store, and retrieve information, but also to processing. Similarly, the non-detrimental effect of the construct and reactivate mental representations (Chen unconscious on conscious learning processes needs to and Bargh 1999; Lewicki et al. 1992). Thus, unconscious be carefully examined so that more evidence can be processing can compensate for the restricted capacity of presented for the contribution of the unconscious on conscious processing either in the absence or in the satisfactory learning outcomes. presence of conscious awareness. The inhibitory effects of unconscious processing Moreover, consciously constructed knowledge struc- characterize a difficult form of learning, because any in- tures can become automated as repeatedly being applied formation can easily be encoded, stored, and retrieved to related cognitive learning tasks (Sweller et al. 1998). by relevant stimuli; making it difficult to regulate how Once coherent knowledge structures (cognitive sche- and what has been learnt (Anderson et al. 1998; Huettig mata) in long-term memory have been automated, stu- and McQuenn 2011; Squire 1992; Thomson et al. 2010). dents will devote less cognitive capacity to work on These influences of unconscious learning are not in- them (Van Gog et al. 2005). The operation of automated stantaneously and always accessible to a prompt con- schemata is not significantly impeded by the capacity scious intervention (Kihlstrom et al. 1992). In contrast, limitation in working memory (Van Merriënboer and Aizenstein et al. (2004) argued that conscious learning Sweller 2005). “Whereas there are severe capacity limits processes might interfere in unconscious learning. How- to the amount of information from sensory memory that ever, it is not very clear how conscious learning could working memory can process, there are no known limits interfere in the kind of learning that eludes conscious to the amount of information from long-term memory awareness, particularly when one engages in emotional that can be processed by working memory” (Sweller experiences, implicit thoughts, fantasies, and uncon- 2004 p 13). By virtue of automatized schemata “human scious defences. Furthermore, not just thoughts, but cognitive architecture handles complex material that thinking itself can be unconscious (Kihlstrom 2008), appears to exceed the capacity of working memory” thereby causing more difficulty for the conscious inter- (Paas et al. 2003 p 2). Automated schemata steer human ference to happen. behaviour without the need to be consciously processed, and, thus, there will be available working memory The conscious and unconscious functioning capacity for other cognitive activities (Van Merriënboer capacity for the mental integration of pictorial and Sweller 2005). and verbal instructional materials However, neither novice nor advanced students can One of the main purposes of education is to make stu- always consciously or unconsciously construct coherent dents cognizant of how learning occurs and how it can knowledge structures or facilitatory mental representa- be developed, consciously engaging in their learning and tions to learn satisfactorily, particularly when their work- thinking activities, to achieve a desired change in their ing memory capacity is overloaded or unnecessarily behaviour. However, students at all levels cannot consist- loaded. Such a cognitive load leads to a split-attention ently learn consciously (Smith 2003). Courses aimed to effect on verbal and visual representations whereby teach students how to process information and think students use their available cognitive capacity without making significant contribution to their learning tasks consciously have not always produced durable and trans- ferable achievements (see Chiesi et al. 2011; Garside (Casey 2003; Kalyuga et al. 1999; Mayer et al. 2001; 1996; Ten Dam and Volman 2004), although many stud- Mayer and Moreno 2002). The overload can happen and impede the learning processes of advanced students ies have suggested that teaching students how to process and apply information can improve their higher order when they are provided with redundant textual explana- thinking skills (see Kuhn 1999; Kuhn and Dean 2005; tions for a diagram, chart, or image (Sweller and Chandler 1994). The verbal explanations are not redundant for Wegerif 2011). The scanty knowledge of learners and educators about novice students, provided that the novices are presented how human learning occurs can lead to ineffectiveness with sufficient images corresponding to the verbal ex- planation simultaneously rather than separately (Kalyuga in learning and teaching tasks (Veenman and Beishuizen 2004; Zohar 2004). Even though students and educators 2012; Mayer et al. 1999; Pollock et al. 2002). For both acquire necessary knowledge and skills of what to do for novice and advanced students, removing the redundant Kuldas et al. SpringerPlus 2013, 2:105 Page 9 of 14 http://www.springerplus.com/content/2/1/105 explanations and keeping just the necessary pictorial features to the problem or activating appropriate sche- representations can be beneficial for better learning mata (Ifenthaler and Seel 2011; Seel et al. 2009). Activa- (Chandler and Sweller 1991; Diao and Sweller 2007), be- ting one of the forms allows a learner to integrate new cause it is pictorial rather than textual information that information into pre-existing schemata (knowledge facilitates the construction of coherent mental represen- structures stored in long-term memory). An activated tations (Kalyuga 2012). However, if the presented images schema runs automatically and regulates information or symbols to describe the corresponding text are mul- processing, a function which is vital for humans as it tiple, dynamic, and interactive, the learning processes of allows new information to be processed very quickly and novices can be impeded rather than improved (Bodemer enables them to adapt to their environment spontan- et al. 2004). Reduction in the variety of visual representa- eously (Ifenthaler and Seel 2011). In activating cognitive tions can help to moderate the involvement of distinct schemata, the role of motivation, emotion, and uncon- mental representations (Schnotz and Bannert 2003) and scious mental representations needs to be taken into avoid the extraneous effort needed to map between the consideration (Thompson 2004). It might be motivation visual and verbal representations, allowing more cogni- and emotion that largely determine a learner’s cognitive tive effort to focus on deeper processing (Chandler and performance rather than working memory capacity; the Sweller 1991, 1992). However, reduction of the cognitive relationship between cognitive capacity, affect, and load can sometimes impair learning rather than enhance motivation has not yet been understood sufficiently it when learning tasks do not challenge the cognitive ca- (Moreno 2010). pacity of students (Schnotz and Kürschner 2007). Lear- ning cannot only be enhanced by the reduction of a Conclusion variety of different mental representations or excessive This review has served to provide an insight into the information; it must also be adapting the degree of diffi- perceptual, cognitive, and emotional aspects of human culty of presented information or learning tasks to the learning processes and outcomes, particularly into the level of knowledge and cognitive ability of students unconscious processes largely originated from the emo- (Schnotz and Kürschner 2007). tional and motivational functions of the human psyche, As a result, at the outset of information processing, so as to enhance the understanding of the role of uncon- unconscious mental representations can reduce the con- scious functions in the mental integration of visual and scious effort to integrate the most part of the verbal and verbal instructional materials. To the aim, a set of pro- the visual information with each other (Lewicki et al. posals for the unconscious processes and outcomes, 1992), thereby conducing to satisfactory learning outcomes largely within perceptual, cognitive, social, evolutionary, (Paivio 1991). However, in most educational studies educational, and psychoanalytic psychology literature, concerning the construction of teaching and learning has been examined. The general consensus in the litera- models, there is little or no room for the educational impli- ture is that learning processes consist of interconnected cation of the facilitatory role of unconscious representation. perceptual, cognitive, and emotional processing stages, Further studies have yet to be conducted to determine the in which the unconscious is likely to precede the con- extent to which unconscious mental representations inhibit scious. Learning processes must have an unconscious, or facilitate learning processes. implicit, unintentional, intuitive, experiential, or auto- Finally, the effective design and application of teaching matic processing stage, mainly due to limited conscious aids require educators to better understand how to processing capacity. Learning processes cannot be con- facilitate the construction of meaningful mental repre- stantly monitored at a high level of conscious process- sentations enhancing learning, mainly because learning ing, particularly when students engage in a motivating occurs when learners actively construct the representa- emotional state. The unconscious promptly works on in- tions from provided information, and well-designed in- formation patterns from the first microsecond to see, structional materials (Ifenthaler and Seel 2011; Mayer hear, taste, or to feel. Conscious processing has yet to be et al. 1999; Seel and Blumschein 2009). Forms of mental detected in similar performance; it may be restricted be- representations, such as mental models (representing cause of its nature, of the limited capacity of working and communicating feelings, thoughts, ideas, and per- memory, or of unconscious processes. Therefore, an un- sonal experiences), images, concepts, and schemata, en- derstanding of human learning processes should not be able individuals to process information, understanding restricted to conscious learning. experience and events (Mayer et al. 1999). Rich and flex- Students can mentally integrate verbal and pictorial in- ible mental models improve a learner’s task performance structional materials unconsciously. Unconscious mental of any domain learning activity (Seel et al. 2006). Under- representations can serve as a rapid mental integration standing an event and solving related problems presup- of visual and verbal information, thereby supplying in- poses either constructing the representations of relevant formation for conscious processing. Thus, unconscious Kuldas et al. SpringerPlus 2013, 2:105 Page 10 of 14 http://www.springerplus.com/content/2/1/105 processing can compensate for the limited capacity of teaching and learning styles, cognitive and motivational theories of learning, and mental toughness. the conscious processes, thereby laying the foundation of human learning. Unconscious representations may Author details consolidate conscious learning processes, if verbal and School of Educational Studies, Universiti Sains Malaysia, 11800 USM, Penang, Malaysia. Department of Foundation Education and Social Science, Universiti visual instructional materials are spatially integrated as a Teknologi Malaysia, 81310 UTM, Johor Bahru, Johor Malaysia. way to avoid the unnecessary use of the available visual and verbal memory capacity. This avoidance, in turn, Received: 17 October 2012 Accepted: 8 March 2013 Published: 12 March 2013 can facilitate mental representation or mental integra- tion and ameliorate the challenge of teaching students to References organize their learning processes. Aarts H, Van Den Bos K (2011) On the foundations of beliefs in free will Although any psychological study concerned, even re- intentional binding and unconscious priming in self-agency. Psychol Sci motely, with cognitive learning processes would agree 22:532–537. doi:10.1177/0956797611399294 Abell C, Currie G (1999) Internal and external pictures. 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Unconscious learning processes: mental integration of verbal and pictorial instructional materials

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Springer Journals
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Copyright © 2013 by Kuldas et al.; licensee Springer.
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Abstract

This review aims to provide an insight into human learning processes by examining the role of cognitive and emotional unconscious processing in mentally integrating visual and verbal instructional materials. Reviewed literature shows that conscious mental integration does not happen all the time, nor does it necessarily result in optimal learning. Students of all ages and levels of experience cannot always have conscious awareness, control, and the intention to learn or promptly and continually organize perceptual, cognitive, and emotional processes of learning. This review suggests considering the role of unconscious learning processes to enhance the understanding of how students form or activate mental associations between verbal and pictorial information. The understanding would assist in presenting students with spatially-integrated verbal and pictorial instructional materials as a way of facilitating mental integration and improving teaching and learning performance. Keywords: Learning processes, Conscious processes, Unconscious processes, Mental representation, Instructional material, Working memory, Emotion, Motivation Introduction the integration of knowledge, skills, attitudes, and task How perceptual, cognitive, and emotional processes are competence is needed (Baartman and De Bruijn 2011). interconnected as a way of facilitating or inhibiting Learning processes and outcomes can be conscious human learning is a recurring issue in educational and and unconscious. The unconscious processes range from psychological studies. Learning processes mainly refer to registering information in the sensory memory to men- the interconnections between perception, memory, lan- tally forming associations within or between information guage, imagery, emotion, and motivation that allow patterns and activating associative memory networks, in- students to mentally build connections between verbal cluding individual expectations, beliefs, and desires and pictorial information patterns or between new and (Kowalski and Westen 2005). The unconscious can con- prior memories and integrate them with relevant know- duce to the acquisition, access, and application of know- ledge structures in long-term memory (Mayer and ledge without deliberate and controlled attention (Ashby Moreno 2003). Acquired knowledge structures refer to and Maddox 2005; Dienes and Perner 1999; Evans learning outcomes (Mayer 1989). A thorough under- 2008). On the contrary, a conscious learning process standing of how students mentally form the connections starts by deliberately paying attention to instructional or construct knowledge structures is important for the materials, noticing similarities and differences between improvement of teaching and learning performance words and their particular meanings with the help of (Ifenthaler and Seel 2011; Weinberger and Fischer relevant prior experience, thereby mentally building 2006). For the better understanding, further clarification coherent connections between them and organizing of cognitive and emotional learning processes towards them into new knowledge structures (Boshuizen and Schmidt 1992; Schmidt 1990). Thus, either conscious or unconscious learning is primarily a combination of men- * Correspondence: seffetu@gmail.com tal processes, referred to as a knowledge acquisition School of Educational Studies, Universiti Sains Malaysia, 11800 USM, Penang, Malaysia process, bringing memories into the mind, forming Full list of author information is available at the end of the article © 2013 Kuldas et al.; licensee Springer. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. Kuldas et al. SpringerPlus 2013, 2:105 Page 2 of 14 http://www.springerplus.com/content/2/1/105 associations, retaining, and using them (Mayer and thereby facilitating the mental integration of verbal and Moreno 2003). A permanent change in mental associa- pictorial instructional materials (Kuldas et al. 2012). If tions (Ormrod 2003), in long-term memory (Schnotz the verbal materials are properly loaded with relevant and Kürschner 2007; Sweller and Sweller 2006), or a imagery values in the use of their contents and contexts, potential change in human behaviour is considered to be students can, consciously or unconsciously, form coher- learning (Walker 1996). ent mental representations, manipulating complex verbal When humans consciously or unconsciously engage in and visual information into an easy-to-grasp format learning activities inside or outside the classroom set- (Paivio 1991). Accurately designed instructional mate- ting, the effect of their potential emotions on learning rials ease the construction of mental representations, processes and outcomes is inevitable (Kowalski and which in turn facilitate knowledge acquisition (Ifenthaler Westen 2005; Moreno 2010). Emotion is deemed to be a and Seel 2011; Seel and Blumschein 2009). However, reaction to significant events or stimulus that prepares mental representations may unconsciously evoke task- action readiness or emotional behaviours (Scherer 2009). irrelevant thoughts and unnecessarily load visual and The human brain operates automatically and rapidly verbal working memory capacity. Moreover, the spatial to emotional stimuli, thereby generating unconscious integration itself can lead to an unnecessary load responses (Bargh and Morsella 2008; Öhman 2002; (Sweller et al. 1998). To control cognitive loads, students Whalen et al. 2004). Emotions are largely elicited by must be provided with an optimized instructional design unconscious evaluations (appraisals) of subjective emo- (Sweller 2010). tional experiences (Arnold 1960; Scherer 2001). Appraisal To enhance the understanding of how human learning processes are characteristically intuitive, immediate, and occurs and what leads to the challenges of conscious mostly outside conscious awareness (Arnold 1960), and are learning, the unconscious learning processes need to be not typically the product of conscious reasoning processes brought to light (Thompson 2004). Recognition of differ- (Robinson and Clore 2001). For instance, the appraisal ent forms of knowledge and associated psychological process underlying emotional attention, does not necessar- processes is essential for a proper understanding of the ily require a complex cognitive calculus, but often occurs human mind (Disessa 2002). For a better understanding, automatically, unconsciously, and effortlessly (Scherer the primary aim of this article is to examine unconscious 2009). Unconscious appraisals are mostly related to intrin- learning processes and outcomes, particularly in relation sic properties of a stimulus, such as pleasantness or un- to the mental integration of pictorial and verbal instruc- pleasantness, and to individual needs, values, and goals tional materials. This examination is broken down into (Scherer 1999). These appraisals generally lead to a motiv- five sections. First, the role of unconscious processes in ational effect (Scherer 2009). Emotional processing “acts as organizing the human memory and learning is set out. the on/off switch to motivation, which is the process by Second, the unconscious activation of associative mem- which goal-directed behavior is initiated and sustained ory networks and its effect on cognitive learning pro- either consciouslyorunconsciously” (Moreno 2010 p. 137). cesses is scrutinised. Third, the effect of unconscious Emotions evoked during learning affect the ways students mental representations on the acquisition of verbal and learn, such as perceiving their own ability to learn, and pictorial information is elaborated. Fourth, the relation guiding their attitudes toward engaging in similar learning of unconscious mental representations to conceptual activities (Howe 1998). learning processes is highlighted. In the final section, Thus, emotional/motivational processes intervene in conscious and unconscious processing capacity for the instructional influences on learning activities either con- mental integration of instructional materials is collated. sciously or unconsciously (Moreno 2010; Moreno and Mayer 2007). This intervention leads to challenges for How human memory acquires information: conducting teaching and learning activities. To over- Conscious and unconscious learning processes come such challenges, an essential educational objective One of the most challenging problems in educational is to render students conscious learners, allowing them and psychological studies on human memory and learn- to become conscious of their behaviour and learning ing is related to the role of conscious and unconscious outcomes. However, the bulk of perceptual, cognitive, processes (Schmidt 1990). In particular, existing litera- and emotional processes, and the organization of human ture provides scanty knowledge about how students con- memory are too complex to be dealt with consciously; sciously intervene in unconscious memory and learning therefore, conscious learning is unlikely to occur all the processes, including their wishes, needs, beliefs, and time (Lewicki et al. 1992). Conscious learning can be conflicts, thereby guiding their emotional and motiv- eased by unconscious learning processes that promptly ational behaviours (Gilhooley 2008). The less controver- and continually establish connections between the per- sial view in this regard is that perceptual, cognitive, and ceptual, cognitive, and emotional processes of learning, emotional processes are carried out unconsciously at the Kuldas et al. SpringerPlus 2013, 2:105 Page 3 of 14 http://www.springerplus.com/content/2/1/105 outset, and afterwards, possibly reach conscious pro- et al. 1999), associative and rule based (Smith and cesses (Bargh and Morsella 2008). Humans cannot con- DeCoster 2000), adaptive unconscious and conscious stantly be in control of information encoding, storage, (Wilson 2003), and impulsive and reflective (Strack and and retrieval processes or readily access and manipulate Deutsch 2004). In general, relevant evidence indicates the unconsciously processed information. On the con- that cognitive unconscious processes can lead to the un- trary, unconscious processes are not similarly limited. conscious acquisition of knowledge and freely influence Unconscious processing appears to be structurally and conscious learning processes and outcomes, but later on, functionally much more sophisticated than the con- this influence can be amenable to a conscious interven- scious by accessing and influencing conscious processes tion (Evans 2008). Learning processes are partially amen- (Bargh and Morsella 2008). able to a conscious intervention, such as conscious The common view on how human memory acquires awareness, conscious control, conscious intention, or de- information is that a limited amount of sensory informa- liberate attention (Anderson 1992; Anderson et al. tion (visual, auditory, olfactory, tactile, kinaesthetic, or 2004). A good part of information acquisition or the gustatory) is temporarily held in short-term memory, processes of human learning, ranging from perceptual herein organized by working memory, and, in part, per- information-processing to speech production, are not manently stored in long-term memory (Baddeley 1992). necessarily subject to conscious processing (Hasher and Short-term memory is transitory memory storage in Zacks 1984; Jacoby et al. 1992). which the working memory exercises a restricted cap- Cognitive learning processes are often manipulated by acity for performing a limited amount of information or perceptual (Andrade and Deeprose 2007) and emotional for organizing possible connections between and within unconscious processing (Epstein 1994). Perceptual un- information patterns (Hoffman et al. 2008). Through this conscious processing can be conceived as automatically limited capacity alone, students are unlikely to encode, perceiving and holding a restricted amount of sensory store, and retrieve every feature of information con- information patterns as well as perceptually priming sciously; they are likely to process and discern multiple existing memories. Perceptual processing can lead to the patterns of information unconsciously, parallel to the activation or retrieval of verbal memories even when conscious processing (Lewicki et al. 1992). one undergoes a surgical operation or general anaesthe- As a matter of fact, conscious processes (i.e. voluntary sia, that is, without his or her conscious awareness (see and controlled attention, awareness, and intention) are Andrade and Deeprose 2007; Deeprose and Andrade not persistently active to formulate or evaluate all per- 2006; Deeprose et al. 2004, 2005). In these studies, ceived information. Therefore, they are not essentially retrieval of the memories was detected after perceptual prerequisite in discerning every bit of information at the priming (i.e., auditory priming), presenting a word outset, but later are required to adjust, adapt, or inte- masked in background noise during surgery to detect grate a limited amount of information patterns into one the extent to which the subjects could identify accurately another (Anderson 1991; Anderson and Milson 1989; the word after the surgical operation. Either subliminally Schmidt 1990; Walsh and Anderson 2009). In addition, or supraliminally perceived stimuli can activate or direct any consciously or unconsciously formulated or dis- perceptual and cognitive responses when people are cerned pattern of information does not mean it is a awake, alert, and attentive without one having conscious complete or infallible evaluation (Jou 2011). Emotional awareness, control, or intention of encoding, storing, (e.g. fear, anger, pleasure, hopes, or desire) and sensory and retrieving information (forming mental associa- information are not amenable to a complete evaluation. tions), referred to as cognitive unconscious processing Even the conscious evaluation process itself, respecting (Kihlstrom 1987). The mental formation of association desirable and undesirable values of information, can dis- within or between information patterns can be uncon- sciously made in respect of their meanings, that is, to auto- tract the conscious mind from working on each experi- ence (Kim and Rehder 2011). matically engage in the identification and categorization of The distinction between cognitive processes that are similarities among meanings aswell asto insert consciously made meanings in the ones that are unconsciously made unconscious with constantly active functioning capacity and those that are conscious with limited functioning (Fu et al. 2010). During the formation or making meaning capacity refers to dual processing accounts of the human process, that is, before constructed meanings are fully reflected in the conscious mind, humans are unconsciously mind (Evans 2008; Stanovich 1999), such as implicit and explicit (Reber 1976), automatic and controlled guided by their past experiences, emotional states, expecta- (Schneider and Shiffrin 1977), experiential and rational tions, fixed habits, and preferred thoughts (Gilhooley 2008). (Epstein 1994), intuitive and analytic (Hammond 2010), They can unconsciously generate emotional responses to holistic and analytic (Nisbett et al. 2001), heuristic and an event or word stimulus based on relevant past experi- analytic (Evans 2006), heuristic and systematic (Chen ences (Smith and DeCoster 2000). The generation of Kuldas et al. SpringerPlus 2013, 2:105 Page 4 of 14 http://www.springerplus.com/content/2/1/105 affective responses to a stimulus and motivation for a 1995). Through this associative network, primed mem- related behaviour, such as approach or avoid, outside of ory is likely to spread activation to closely or remotely conscious processes, refers to emotional unconscious pro- connected memories, referred to as unconscious associa- cessing (Chen and Bargh 1999). These perceptual, cogni- tive priming (Ratcliff and McKoon 1981). Therefore, a tive, and emotional unconscious processes can facilitate or perceived information pattern can evoke pleasurable or inhibit each other’s performances in information processing unpleasurable thoughts (Bunce et al. 1999; Westen and learning activities (Kuldas et al. 2012). 2006). Humans unconsciously tend to avoid unpleasant In particular, a conscious intervention in emotional thoughts and maintain pleasant ones (Epstein 1992, processing, controlling the effect of desires, hopes, or 1994). The human mind can arrange thought processes fears on cognitive processes, on the ways one think, without conscious intervention (Westen 1998). behave, or learn, is unlikely to happen all the time This spreading activation serves to make associative (Bargh and Chartrand 1999; Bargh and Ferguson 2000; memory networks more available for further cognitive Bruinsma 2004; Meyer and Turner 2002). In addition, processing, facilitating access to memories (Anderson mainly due to the limited capacity of visual-sensory 1995). Unconscious associative networks, such as beliefs, information-processing; humans cannot consciously and wishes, thoughts, and unconscious procedures, such as simultaneously encode multiple information patterns; emotions, motives and defences, guide human behaviour, they must unconsciously supress or discard some visual affecting feeling states, flows of thoughts, and behav- patterns of information (Kastner and Ungerleider 2000). ioural tendencies (Westen 1999). When the unconscious If the patterns are associated with negative emotions, activation of a network leads to positive (e.g. curiosity) human unconsciously exert perceptual defence against and negative emotional states (e.g. mild anxiety), they them, supressing or even blocking sensory information facilitate learning performance. However, they inhibit that is emotionally disturbing (Dahl 2001; Pratto and learning when give rise to intense negative emotional states John 1991; Robinson et al. 2004; Taylor 1991). These (e.g. anxiety, panic, and insecurity) and related thoughts perceptual unconscious processes can activate several such as incompetence belief (Kuyper et al. 2000). cortical areas of the brain and bring wishes, fears, and Associative processes are also termed “implicit pro- changes into feeling states (Blanco and Soto 2009; cesses” instead of unconscious processes; but, it is not Öhman and Soares 1998; Siegel and Weinberger 2009). very clear how implicit processes differ from the uncon- These effects can mediate motivational and inferential scious since both of them work associatively in forming processes that produce inaccurate judgments or deci- memories and learning processes. Both the implicit and sions (Efklides 2006). However, to sustain or reflect on the unconscious processes are unintentional, and utilize the outcomes of these processes (e.g. making a choice, a the same associative network of memory and procedures goal pursuit), conscious control can be required. to mould feelings, thoughts, and behaviours (Gilhooley As a result, humans are frequently unaware of how 2008; Westen 1999). Therefore, the implicit and the un- they form and activate memories, being unconscious of conscious can be used interchangeably to refer to the forming associations between memories and their re- formation or activation of association within or between trieval processes (McCabe et al. 2011; Sid and Stanislas networks. 2007; Siegel and Weinberger 2009; Sohn et al. 2005; The unconscious associative network, without the Weinberger and Westen 2008). Conscious processing effective intervention of conscious awareness, conscious has a limited capacity to acquire information instantan- control, or conscious intention, can result in implicit eously and ceaselessly, and therefore, is likely to engage learning (see Bunce et al. 1999; Cleeremans et al. 1998; in preliminary unconscious information-processing stage Eraut 2000; Esteves et al 1994; Guo et al. 2011; Lewicki (Barsalou 2003; Libet 1999). Hence, the conscious pro- et al. 1987, 1992; Reber 1989, 1992; Rieber et al. 2004). cessing is unlikely to result in any kind of cognitive However, Hammonds (2006) argued that implicit learn- learning by obviating the need for the cooperation of un- ing occurs without verbal expression but not without conscious processing. This assertion is further elaborated attention; it demands either voluntary or involuntary at- upon in the following section. tention (Hartman et al. 1989; Willingham and Goedert- Eschmann 1999). As such, further investigations are The effect of unconscious activation of associative needed to understand how implicit learning pro- memory networks on cognitive learning processes cesses are dissociated from explicit learning pro- Human memory consists of information-processing cesses, thereby explaining how both of them require stages, such as encoding, storage, and retrieval, which attention (voluntary or involuntary), occur through are consciously or unconsciously associated with one an- associative networks, and significantly influence feel- other (Wong et al. 1997). Associated memories are men- ings, thoughts, and behaviours. Due to the difficulty tally represented in the form of a network (Anderson of such dissociation, the absence of verbal expression Kuldas et al. SpringerPlus 2013, 2:105 Page 5 of 14 http://www.springerplus.com/content/2/1/105 as the absence of voluntary attention is likely to be reports from the sensory organs; the reports on per- detected in a related study. ceived information patterns are probably not scattered Unconscious learning allows people to successfully across the brain aimlessly or randomly (Geary 2002). cope with the complexity of their learning tasks (Lewicki Human sensory organs and brain activities can be task et al. 1992), as well as with the activities of acculturation oriented (e.g. human survival) in the organization of and socialization, implicitly acquiring social skills with reports (Geary 2002; Sweller and Sweller 2006). respect to tolerable social behaviour, attitudes, and cul- Whilst humans are unconscious of how information is tural worldview (Lewicki et al. 1987; Reber 1992). Learn- being organized, their organisms, such as the brain and ing how to speak a native language, how to listen and sensory organs, seem to be conscious of their tasks, the interact with others, and how to use general problem information they form and the places to which they re- solving strategies are some examples of unconscious port on that information. Therefore, without resorting to learning, which is particularly conceived to be easily, a conscious process, such as intention, to raise questions rapidly, and unconsciously acquired biologically primary to perceived information, one can unconsciously ask knowledge (Sweller and Sweller 2006). Primary know- questions and seek answers without knowing the under- ledge structures are information categories that human lying factors of these behaviours (Chartrand and Bargh have evolved to acquire and use for processing biologic- 1996; Greenwald and Banaji 1995; Jacoby et al. 1992). ally secondary knowledge, such as learning to read and However, the recognition of both questions and answers write (Geary 2002). Humans have gradually evolved to may need a conscious process (e.g. controlled attention deal with secondary knowledge; hence, the manner in or conscious intention). Both conscious and unconscious which listening and speaking develop differs markedly processes can associatively initiate and sustain goal di- from the manner in which reading and writing is learned rected behaviour, such as decision making (Aarts and (Sweller and Sweller 2006). The unconscious acquisition Van Den Bos 2011; Custers and Aarts 2010). This and application of primary knowledge are formed evolu- conscious interference in the associative activities does tionarily prior to conscious learning activities, and are not mean that the conscious processes can completely not necessarily subject to conscious control or conscious deactivate automatic or unconscious processing in the intention when they promptly and continually produce brain to organize perceptual and cognitive processes of responses to surrounding stimuli, rely heavily on learning (Aizenstein et al. 2004). recognising an information pattern, improve the com- It is improbable that humans immediately and persist- plexity of information, or identify and disregard random ently prioritize conscious processes to evaluate and elements (Seger 1994). The outcomes of these activities verbalize personal experiences, either positively or nega- are more durable in memory, less affected by cognitive tively. There should be an automatic evaluation system insults (e.g. brain injury, dementia, or amnesia) and rela- for information processing when the conscious processes tively unaffected by errors or missing data (Seger 1994). are not performing effectively. Relying on auto-positive However, the outcomes or the activities may not be evaluations, humans tend to confront what is being completely be detached from voluntary or involuntary experienced, but avoid experiencing what was auto- attention and working memory capacity. negatively evaluated (Epstein 1994). These auto-evaluations Thus, cognitive learning processes are not solely re- can spontaneously construct and reactivate mental repre- stricted to the interference of conscious processing, con- sentations, which, in turn, build an interaction within and scious intention, conscious control, or conscious awareness between patterns of subjective experiences (Andersen et al. (Cleeremans et al. 1998; Scott and Dienes 2010). Conscious 1995). Spontaneously constructed mental representations processing can be ineffective in instantaneously and can guide thoughts and behaviours (Seel 2003) and, thus, continually guiding the learning processes from the first be responsible for the evaluation of information in the microsecond to see, hear, taste, or to feel (Anderson 1992). absence of effective conscious interference (Cohen et al. The following section serves to further elucidate these 1996). The interference of mental representations is not in- arguments. stantaneously accessible to the conscious processes, nor is it readily transformed into verbal expressions (Disessa and Human learning processes in the absence of Sherin 1998). Although mental representations can be conscious interventions: The role of unconscious constructed from both words and images; they are heavily mental representation influenced by the latter rather than the former (MacDonald Human sensory organs and the brain do not simply per- et al. 1992; Trueswell et al. 1994). ceive information patterns in a dispersed manner from One of the forms of mental representation is imagery the very beginning, but rather in a selected manner, ren- (Paivio 1986). Imagery can be a visual mode of the brain dering human organisms functional before conscious state (Kosslyn et al. 2001). However, it is not merely a intervention. The brain does not receive disorganized visual mode, but also a mode of quasi-visual phenomena. Kuldas et al. SpringerPlus 2013, 2:105 Page 6 of 14 http://www.springerplus.com/content/2/1/105 The quasi-perceptual experiences in other sensory psychology as well as in philosophy (Abell and Currie modes underlie kinaesthetic imagery, haptic imagery, or 1999; Von Eckardt 1988). olfactory imagery (see Bensafi et al. 2003; Klatzky et al. Unconscious representations can facilitate the integra- 1991; Stevens 2005). Mental imagery manifests through tion of illustrated verbal and visual information with one the perception of a real or unreal form of a physical another (i.e. the integration of maps, charts, graphics, di- object. Without the perception of a physical object, the agrams, film strips, slides, or pictures with texts in text- imagery is unlikely to take place in the brain (see books, classroom presentations, instructional manuals, Kosslyn 2005; O'Regan and Noë 2001; Pylyshyn 2003). and with computer based instructions), referred to as an Mental imagery can bring motivational and manipula- imagery style of learning (Clark and Paivio 1991; Kuldas tive effects of memories into memory processes (Kuldas et al. 2012). The learning style can render learners assist- et al. 2012). Imagery formation and its effects on the ance in interpreting and absorbing the meanings of information-processing stages may be monitored by information in an accelerating and retaining manner unconscious and conscious intention; the latter can be (Chun and Plass 1996; Kulhavy et al. 1993; Sadoski et al. based in a preliminary stage of the former (Henningsen 1997; Rieber 1990, 1991), improve their problem solving, 2010). Mental imagery can motivate people to achieve creative, and critical thinking skills (Paivio 1986). To this their desires, even if such a desire is not actually present end, instructional designs should properly be aligned to their senses (Kavanagh et al. 2005). However, such a with students’ expertise levels in cognitive learning tasks desire should address to a physical object unlike verbal to avoid overburdening their working memory capacity representations of abstract concepts, such as angle or (Schnotz and Kürschner 2007; Wallen et al. 2005). God. The imagery can enable people to avoid unpleasant Unconscious representations can play a facilitatory thoughts that unintentionally entered into whatever they role in the acquisition of conceptual knowledge and thus remember, expect, or learn (Faw 1997; Marks 1999). Im- in the occurrence of conceptual learning (Ziori and agery affects thought processes regardless of whether Dienes 2006), provided that educators pictorially illustrate they refer to past or present personal experiences (Paivio concepts in a manner closely referring to their contextual 1991). Therefore, imagery should be considered as a meanings (Paivio 2007). Mental representations allow certain type of mental representation, and not merely as students to acquire and make meanings consciously or a form of past experience. unconsciously (Winn 1987), requiring more or less con- In consequence, unconscious mental representations sciously accessible knowledge about what to acquire can be operative, either in the absence of or in the pres- (Dienes et al. 1991; Perruchet and Pacteau 1991). However, ence of conscious processes, thereby reducing conscious this requirement does not mean that making meaning of effort in the preparation and evaluation, acceptance or concepts with the help of their pictorial illustrations ne- rejection of information patterns, such as making mean- cessarily depends on effective conscious intervention ing of concepts. Thus, the unconscious processes can (Gambrell and Bales 1986; Paivio 2007). Deliberate in- organize memory, conceptual meanings, and consolidate terventions may remain ineffective in forming a con- the conscious processes of learning. nection between dissimilar features of illustrations; whereas, it can be relatively effective in the case of similar features (Borst and Kosslyn 2008). The role of unconscious mental representations in Illustrations help students to visualize the proper conceptual learning processes meaning of presented concepts (Dechsri et al. 1997; Human learning is manifested through multidimensional Heinich et al. 1999) before relying on their conceptual but interacting perceptual, cognitive, and emotional knowledge (Laufer and Sim 1985). Conscious knowledge processes. Any kind of learning is unlikely to occur cannot be instantaneously or constantly accessible and effectively without the interaction between prior know- applicable, mainly due to the limited deliberate attention ledge and cognitive abilities, and the emotional and mo- span and working memory capacity (Unsworth and tivational states of learners (Moreno 2010; Seel 2001). Engle 2007). On the contrary, an unconscious associ- ation between meanings and pictures of presented con- This interaction allows humans to grasp the reality of experiences, to generate ideas and concepts, and to set cepts can be formed through unconscious associative personal goals or interests. It can be frequently mediated networks because they are not necessarily dependent on working memory capacity (Anderson 1995). by unconscious mental representations, providing the memory with information forming at the abstract and If a concept does not properly refer to its common concrete levels based on both present and past experi- structural properties, such as form, content, context, ob- ject, and subject, there may appear many interpretations ences (Brewer and Schommer-Aikins 2006; Marks 1999; Sadoski et al. 1997). These effects of unconscious mental or several other potential meanings which can be made representations are one of the less controversial issues in from distinct mental representations of these properties Kuldas et al. SpringerPlus 2013, 2:105 Page 7 of 14 http://www.springerplus.com/content/2/1/105 (Clark and Paivio 1991; Schnotz 1993). As students ex- concepts appropriately loaded with imagery values, plore the illustrations of these structural properties to which are highly associated with the common structural find relevant information under specific guidance, they and functional properties (Danan 1992). will grasp comprehensive and persuasive meanings of This imagery learning generally refers to the visual what is being presented, resulting in effective teaching learning style that can enable students to integrate the outcomes (Lowe 1996; Stringer and Irwing 1998). Pre- common structural and functional properties with each senting information that is familiar to students or rele- other through representational, referential, and associa- vant to their prior knowledge can allow them to recall tive processes (Paivio 1991). Through representational the relevant content of information (Ranzijn 1991; Wolfe processing, a stimulus can implicitly activate corre- and Woodwyk 2010), even though students might infer sponding memories. For example, the concrete word another meaning onto which they have imposed person- “rose” can set the verbal memories in motion that trace alized interpretations or preferences (Vermunt 1998). and activate the corresponding image of the rose and Accordingly, the extent to which information about a vice versa, or an abstract word “love” can launch verbal concept closely or directly refers to its form, content, representations that raise personal expectations, happi- context, subject, or object, may facilitate its mental rep- ness or disappointment, providing the visualization of a resentation, thereby helping students to retain and re- cheerful or resentful face. This cross-activation refers to hearse it more easily. the referential processing through which the associative Rieber (1994) identified the common structural prop- processes may implicitly evoke many different images erties of concepts with attentional, affective, cognitive, and words from the one intended (Rieber 1994). How- and compensatory functions. The attentional function ever, human learning can occur more easily than without detects possible similarities between formerly and newly the interactions between referential and associative pro- learned concepts (Anderson 1993). Such a recall may cesses (Koren 1999). Learning these concepts through affect emotions and attitudes, referring to the affective the associative processes can be easier than without function, which is discerned by the cognitive function. these associations (Mayer 2003). Therefore, conceptual Students may have recourse to the compensatory func- learning can become more robust if it involves implicit tion to decode the discerned affective function. The representational, referential, and associative processes more concepts are concrete, the better the understand- (Mayer and Anderson 1992), because they can assist ing of their contents can be (Beishuizen et al. 2002) and students in interpreting, making meaning, and in the easier the visual illustrations of the common struc- comprehending insights into their educational experi- tural and functional properties representing their mean- ences (Paivio 1991). The role of these unconscious pro- ings can be achieved (Benson 1997). cesses is also readily observable in learning native However, most probably there is no particular mental languages (Chomsky 1986; Keenan et al. 1998), in get- representation and meaning permanently localized for a ting accustomed to social norms and forming cultural corresponding concept in the human mind (DiSessa worldviews and personal beliefs (Kulkofsky et al. 2010). 2006). The representation of a concept is variable during However, these unconscious processes might have one’s life span and might simply be affected by cognitive some inhibitory effects on conscious learning processes abilities, personal beliefs and experiences, and cultural by evoking-task irrelevant thoughts and leading students worldviews, as well as one’s age group and gender. The to devote their available working memory capacity to representations of the relationship within and between processing these thoughts. Unconscious processing can the common structural (i.e. form, content, context, bring not only a mark of past experiences, but also object, and subject) and functional (i.e. attentional, evaded or forgotten thoughts, into current emotional affective, cognitive, and compensatory) properties of states, behavioural tendencies, flow of thoughts, and into learning processes (Haggerty et al. 2010; Schacter 1992; concepts vary over time and from one situation to an- other. Accordingly, optimal meanings of concepts are Ziori and Dienes 2006). A series of studies on the use of not necessarily made from the ways students prefer to working memory demonstrated that negative emotions (e.g., sadness, hopelessness) brought task-irrelevant visualize the common structural and functional proper- ties of concepts (Heinich et al. 1999). Instead, students thoughts into conscious cognitive activities, thereby can better understand concepts, which are strongly asso- unnecessarily loading the available capacity, diverting at- tention from the task, and hampering memory perform- ciated with their properties more than those that are less or not associated at all (Koren 1999). Such strong associ- ance (Ellis et al. 1995, 1997a,1997b). Similar evidence ations increase the likelihood of retention and the facili- related to motivational factors of academic achievements tation of recalling concepts (Chun and Plass 1996; indicated that the striving of students for the avoidance Mayer 1997; Mayer and Anderson 1992). This can be of undesirable consequences of learning or of academic because of the imagery traces of verbal definitions; task performance triggered disruptive thoughts, such as Kuldas et al. SpringerPlus 2013, 2:105 Page 8 of 14 http://www.springerplus.com/content/2/1/105 those of failure or of appearing incompetent, increased optimal learning, they do not necessarily achieve this anxiety levels, and, thus, diverted their attention away purpose; mainly due to the limited cognitive capacity for from the demands of the task (Pekrun et al. 2009; conscious processing (Yuan et al. 2006), accessing and Linnenbrink and Pintrich, 2002; Senko et al. 2011). applying the knowledge and skills (Nelson 1996; However, such evidence can be very reliable and valid Veenman et al. 2004). Therefore, both educators and only if a detrimental effect of unconscious processing is students must rely on unconscious processing not only detected or identified apart from the effect of conscious to encode, store, and retrieve information, but also to processing. Similarly, the non-detrimental effect of the construct and reactivate mental representations (Chen unconscious on conscious learning processes needs to and Bargh 1999; Lewicki et al. 1992). Thus, unconscious be carefully examined so that more evidence can be processing can compensate for the restricted capacity of presented for the contribution of the unconscious on conscious processing either in the absence or in the satisfactory learning outcomes. presence of conscious awareness. The inhibitory effects of unconscious processing Moreover, consciously constructed knowledge struc- characterize a difficult form of learning, because any in- tures can become automated as repeatedly being applied formation can easily be encoded, stored, and retrieved to related cognitive learning tasks (Sweller et al. 1998). by relevant stimuli; making it difficult to regulate how Once coherent knowledge structures (cognitive sche- and what has been learnt (Anderson et al. 1998; Huettig mata) in long-term memory have been automated, stu- and McQuenn 2011; Squire 1992; Thomson et al. 2010). dents will devote less cognitive capacity to work on These influences of unconscious learning are not in- them (Van Gog et al. 2005). The operation of automated stantaneously and always accessible to a prompt con- schemata is not significantly impeded by the capacity scious intervention (Kihlstrom et al. 1992). In contrast, limitation in working memory (Van Merriënboer and Aizenstein et al. (2004) argued that conscious learning Sweller 2005). “Whereas there are severe capacity limits processes might interfere in unconscious learning. How- to the amount of information from sensory memory that ever, it is not very clear how conscious learning could working memory can process, there are no known limits interfere in the kind of learning that eludes conscious to the amount of information from long-term memory awareness, particularly when one engages in emotional that can be processed by working memory” (Sweller experiences, implicit thoughts, fantasies, and uncon- 2004 p 13). By virtue of automatized schemata “human scious defences. Furthermore, not just thoughts, but cognitive architecture handles complex material that thinking itself can be unconscious (Kihlstrom 2008), appears to exceed the capacity of working memory” thereby causing more difficulty for the conscious inter- (Paas et al. 2003 p 2). Automated schemata steer human ference to happen. behaviour without the need to be consciously processed, and, thus, there will be available working memory The conscious and unconscious functioning capacity for other cognitive activities (Van Merriënboer capacity for the mental integration of pictorial and Sweller 2005). and verbal instructional materials However, neither novice nor advanced students can One of the main purposes of education is to make stu- always consciously or unconsciously construct coherent dents cognizant of how learning occurs and how it can knowledge structures or facilitatory mental representa- be developed, consciously engaging in their learning and tions to learn satisfactorily, particularly when their work- thinking activities, to achieve a desired change in their ing memory capacity is overloaded or unnecessarily behaviour. However, students at all levels cannot consist- loaded. Such a cognitive load leads to a split-attention ently learn consciously (Smith 2003). Courses aimed to effect on verbal and visual representations whereby teach students how to process information and think students use their available cognitive capacity without making significant contribution to their learning tasks consciously have not always produced durable and trans- ferable achievements (see Chiesi et al. 2011; Garside (Casey 2003; Kalyuga et al. 1999; Mayer et al. 2001; 1996; Ten Dam and Volman 2004), although many stud- Mayer and Moreno 2002). The overload can happen and impede the learning processes of advanced students ies have suggested that teaching students how to process and apply information can improve their higher order when they are provided with redundant textual explana- thinking skills (see Kuhn 1999; Kuhn and Dean 2005; tions for a diagram, chart, or image (Sweller and Chandler 1994). The verbal explanations are not redundant for Wegerif 2011). The scanty knowledge of learners and educators about novice students, provided that the novices are presented how human learning occurs can lead to ineffectiveness with sufficient images corresponding to the verbal ex- planation simultaneously rather than separately (Kalyuga in learning and teaching tasks (Veenman and Beishuizen 2004; Zohar 2004). Even though students and educators 2012; Mayer et al. 1999; Pollock et al. 2002). For both acquire necessary knowledge and skills of what to do for novice and advanced students, removing the redundant Kuldas et al. SpringerPlus 2013, 2:105 Page 9 of 14 http://www.springerplus.com/content/2/1/105 explanations and keeping just the necessary pictorial features to the problem or activating appropriate sche- representations can be beneficial for better learning mata (Ifenthaler and Seel 2011; Seel et al. 2009). Activa- (Chandler and Sweller 1991; Diao and Sweller 2007), be- ting one of the forms allows a learner to integrate new cause it is pictorial rather than textual information that information into pre-existing schemata (knowledge facilitates the construction of coherent mental represen- structures stored in long-term memory). An activated tations (Kalyuga 2012). However, if the presented images schema runs automatically and regulates information or symbols to describe the corresponding text are mul- processing, a function which is vital for humans as it tiple, dynamic, and interactive, the learning processes of allows new information to be processed very quickly and novices can be impeded rather than improved (Bodemer enables them to adapt to their environment spontan- et al. 2004). Reduction in the variety of visual representa- eously (Ifenthaler and Seel 2011). In activating cognitive tions can help to moderate the involvement of distinct schemata, the role of motivation, emotion, and uncon- mental representations (Schnotz and Bannert 2003) and scious mental representations needs to be taken into avoid the extraneous effort needed to map between the consideration (Thompson 2004). It might be motivation visual and verbal representations, allowing more cogni- and emotion that largely determine a learner’s cognitive tive effort to focus on deeper processing (Chandler and performance rather than working memory capacity; the Sweller 1991, 1992). However, reduction of the cognitive relationship between cognitive capacity, affect, and load can sometimes impair learning rather than enhance motivation has not yet been understood sufficiently it when learning tasks do not challenge the cognitive ca- (Moreno 2010). pacity of students (Schnotz and Kürschner 2007). Lear- ning cannot only be enhanced by the reduction of a Conclusion variety of different mental representations or excessive This review has served to provide an insight into the information; it must also be adapting the degree of diffi- perceptual, cognitive, and emotional aspects of human culty of presented information or learning tasks to the learning processes and outcomes, particularly into the level of knowledge and cognitive ability of students unconscious processes largely originated from the emo- (Schnotz and Kürschner 2007). tional and motivational functions of the human psyche, As a result, at the outset of information processing, so as to enhance the understanding of the role of uncon- unconscious mental representations can reduce the con- scious functions in the mental integration of visual and scious effort to integrate the most part of the verbal and verbal instructional materials. To the aim, a set of pro- the visual information with each other (Lewicki et al. posals for the unconscious processes and outcomes, 1992), thereby conducing to satisfactory learning outcomes largely within perceptual, cognitive, social, evolutionary, (Paivio 1991). However, in most educational studies educational, and psychoanalytic psychology literature, concerning the construction of teaching and learning has been examined. The general consensus in the litera- models, there is little or no room for the educational impli- ture is that learning processes consist of interconnected cation of the facilitatory role of unconscious representation. perceptual, cognitive, and emotional processing stages, Further studies have yet to be conducted to determine the in which the unconscious is likely to precede the con- extent to which unconscious mental representations inhibit scious. Learning processes must have an unconscious, or facilitate learning processes. implicit, unintentional, intuitive, experiential, or auto- Finally, the effective design and application of teaching matic processing stage, mainly due to limited conscious aids require educators to better understand how to processing capacity. Learning processes cannot be con- facilitate the construction of meaningful mental repre- stantly monitored at a high level of conscious process- sentations enhancing learning, mainly because learning ing, particularly when students engage in a motivating occurs when learners actively construct the representa- emotional state. The unconscious promptly works on in- tions from provided information, and well-designed in- formation patterns from the first microsecond to see, structional materials (Ifenthaler and Seel 2011; Mayer hear, taste, or to feel. Conscious processing has yet to be et al. 1999; Seel and Blumschein 2009). Forms of mental detected in similar performance; it may be restricted be- representations, such as mental models (representing cause of its nature, of the limited capacity of working and communicating feelings, thoughts, ideas, and per- memory, or of unconscious processes. Therefore, an un- sonal experiences), images, concepts, and schemata, en- derstanding of human learning processes should not be able individuals to process information, understanding restricted to conscious learning. experience and events (Mayer et al. 1999). Rich and flex- Students can mentally integrate verbal and pictorial in- ible mental models improve a learner’s task performance structional materials unconsciously. Unconscious mental of any domain learning activity (Seel et al. 2006). Under- representations can serve as a rapid mental integration standing an event and solving related problems presup- of visual and verbal information, thereby supplying in- poses either constructing the representations of relevant formation for conscious processing. Thus, unconscious Kuldas et al. SpringerPlus 2013, 2:105 Page 10 of 14 http://www.springerplus.com/content/2/1/105 processing can compensate for the limited capacity of teaching and learning styles, cognitive and motivational theories of learning, and mental toughness. the conscious processes, thereby laying the foundation of human learning. Unconscious representations may Author details consolidate conscious learning processes, if verbal and School of Educational Studies, Universiti Sains Malaysia, 11800 USM, Penang, Malaysia. Department of Foundation Education and Social Science, Universiti visual instructional materials are spatially integrated as a Teknologi Malaysia, 81310 UTM, Johor Bahru, Johor Malaysia. way to avoid the unnecessary use of the available visual and verbal memory capacity. This avoidance, in turn, Received: 17 October 2012 Accepted: 8 March 2013 Published: 12 March 2013 can facilitate mental representation or mental integra- tion and ameliorate the challenge of teaching students to References organize their learning processes. Aarts H, Van Den Bos K (2011) On the foundations of beliefs in free will Although any psychological study concerned, even re- intentional binding and unconscious priming in self-agency. Psychol Sci motely, with cognitive learning processes would agree 22:532–537. doi:10.1177/0956797611399294 Abell C, Currie G (1999) Internal and external pictures. 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