Awareness is awareness is awareness? Decomposing different aspects of awareness and their role in operant learning of pain sensitivity

Conscious Cogn. 2012 Sep;21(3):1073-84. doi: 10.1016/j.concog.2012.03.008. Epub 2012 Apr 21.


Regarding awareness as a consistent concept has contributed to the controversy about implicit learning. The present study emphasized the importance of distinguishing aspects of awareness in order to determine whether learning is implicit. By decomposing awareness into awareness of contingencies, of the procedure being a learning task, and of the reinforcing stimuli, it was demonstrated that implicit operant learning modulated pain sensitivity. All of these aspects of awareness were demonstrated to not be necessary for learning. Additionally, discrimination of contingencies was not necessary on different levels of processing as demonstrated by a verbal and a behavioral method. It was demonstrated that explicit cognitive processes about one's own behavior, impaired learning, even though these cognitions were not immediately related to the learning process. The results of this study are of special interest in the context of pain, since implicit operant learning can explain the gradual development of hypersensitivity in chronic pain.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Awareness / physiology*
  • Conditioning, Operant / physiology*
  • Discrimination, Psychological / physiology
  • Female
  • Hot Temperature
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pain Measurement
  • Pain Perception / physiology*
  • Reinforcement, Psychology
  • Young Adult