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The Unconscious Will: How the Pursuit of Goals Operates Outside of Conscious Awareness

Neuroscience, Psychology, consciousness, free will, goals


People often act in order to realize desired outcomes, or goals. Although behavioral science recognizes that people can skillfully pursue goals without consciously attending to their behavior once these goals are set, conscious will is considered to be the starting point of goal pursuit. Indeed, when we decide to work hard on a task, it feels as if that conscious decision is the first and foremost cause of our behavior. That is, we are likely to say, if asked, that the decision to act produced the actions themselves. Recent discoveries, however, challenge this causal status of conscious will. They demonstrate that under some conditions, actions are initiated even though we are unconscious of the goals to be attained or their motivating effect on our behavior. Here we analyze how goal pursuit can possibly operate unconsciously.

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