Research Background and Aims

Cognitive science began as the science of consciousness. Rene Descartes argued that humans alone are inherently rational, and that this rationality stems from the awareness of one's thinking (“I think…”). Founder of empirical psychology, Wilhelm Wundt, believed that psychology should focus on analyzing conscious mental states. Researchers such as Herbert Alexander Simon, who played a key role in establishing cognitive science, used the thinking-aloud method to explore mental processes. However, owing to the unviability of verbally reporting unconscious processes, the researchers had to rely only on data pertaining to conscious processing.

The importance of unconscious processing started gaining proper recognition relatively recently. A number of emergent theories asserted that automatic or intuitive behaviors are the ones that are more adaptive, and that these prevail over conscious or deliberative rationality. These theories include the adaptive rationality theory (Anderson, 1991), the somatic marker hypothesis (Damasio, 1994), the adaptive toolbox theory (Gigerenzer, Todd, & ABC Research Group, 1999), the adaptive unconscious theory (Wilson, 2002), and the deliberation-without-attention theory (Dijksterhuis et al., 2006).

The duality of mental processing (conscious and unconscious) is most apparent in creative activity. The sensation of suddenly getting a flash of inspiration is strongly related to the fact that conscious processing has limited scope. Even if you are not consciously thinking of anything in particular, your mind is executing processes gradually and unconsciously, these processes being aimed at deriving a solution to the problem. At a certain moment, the solution will suddenly surface in the consciousness in the form of “insight,” producing an “Aha! experience” (e.g., Ohlsson, 2011).

The purpose of this research is to clarify the respective functions and roles of the implicit cognition and conscious control in creative problem-solving, and to determine whether they work collaboratively, whether, in some cases, they work competitively, and also the reasons for the resultant findings. To this end, this research project comprises the following research themes and their corresponding sub-projects.


Research Themes and Sub-projects

This research comprises two research projects: The Interaction Project and Implicit Representations Project. It also includes a program entitled Research Method Development.

The Interaction Project — I Project —

Implicit cognition plays an important role in creative processes. This is also evident from the fact that artists, for instance, struggle to account for exactly how they create works of art. On the other hand, it is also true that conscious and persistent efforts, intentional strategies, and meta-level motivation have a formidable impact on creative processes. Both implicit cognition and conscious control are important elements in creative processes; however, their respective roles are not straightforward. Accordingly, in this research project, we focus on preparedness and mental resource diffusion, and seek to elucidate the functions of implicit cognition and conscious control and their mutual interactions.

The Implicit Representations Project — R Project —

The presentation of information that cannot be accessed consciously can have a major impact on problem solving performance. However, where in the cognitive apparatus is such unconscious information located? It is generally held that information pertaining to problem solving is stored in the working memory. However, information in the working memory can usually be accessed consciously. Thus, we must either rectify our conceptual understanding about there being a storage location for implicit information, or proffer an alternative storage location. In this research project, we aim to provide empirical insight into this issue, and to construct a comprehensive problem-solving model.

Research Method Development Program — M Program —

Research on creativity necessitates the use of elaborate tasks, but not enough is known about the tasks themselves (their difficulty level, particularities, etc.), including the tasks that were frequently employed in past studies. Therefore, in M Program, we strive to systematically standardize tasks with a view to developing an effective research method.


  • Damasio, A. R. (1994). Descartes' error: Emotion, reason, and the human brain. New York: G.P. Putnam.

  • Dijksterhuis, A., Bos, M. W., Nordgren, L. F., & van Baaren, R. B. (2006). On making the right choice: The deliberation-without-attention effect. Science, 311, 1005–1007. doi: 10.1126/science.1121629

  • Gigerenzer, G., Todd, P. M., & The ABC Research Group (1999). Simple heuristic that make us smart. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

  • Ohlsson, S. (2011). Deep learning: How the mind overrides experience. New York, NY, US: Cambridge University Press.

Further readings: “When good ideas come to us, and when they do not” (M. Hattori)