The Why, What, and How of Human Consciousness

Roy F. Baumeister, Keynote address at The Julian Jaynes Society Conference on Consciousness and Bicameral Studies, Charleston, WV, June 2013.

Abstract: Consciousness is a distinguishing trait of human experience, but does it cause behavior or serve other useful functions? Recent critiques, especially from studies of automatic processes and brain functions, have suggested that it is inefficient and ineffective for controlling action and unnecessary for perceiving the environment. This talk reviews experimental studies on how manipulations of conscious thought cause changes in behavior. It draws new conclusions about what conscious thought can and cannot do — and what it can do better than unconscious processes. It goes on to argue that the core functions of conscious thought are for relating to the social and cultural environment. The paper is based on articles in Psychological Review (2010) and Annual Review of Psychology (2011).