University philosophy professor and research partner receive three-year grant

Benjamin Young and Ran Hassin awarded grant to research non-conscious human behavior from The John Templeton Foundation

Starting in December, Benjamin Young and Ran Hassin will begin their research on non-conscious human behavior

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11/10/2016 | By: Hannah Richardson |

Assistant Professor of Philosophy Benjamin Young ran around the philosophy department at the University of Nevada, Reno in September screaming with glee when he was notified that he had received a research grant from The John Templeton Foundation. The grant will last for 33 months starting this December. Young and his research partner Ran Hassin from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HUJI) will be examining the effects of non-conscious subjective experiences, or phenomenology, in modulating human behavior. For the first time in the history of experimental psychology, their proposed research will allow them to conduct verbal conversations with the human unconscious.

The two met while Young was a Kreitman Post-Doctoral Research Fellow at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. Hassin and Young were both interested in the non-conscious mind, so they began discussing theories that soon led to their research, which they are calling "Conversations with the Human Unconscious: A Potential Breakthrough in Our Understanding of Self-control and the Non-conscious Mind."

As a philosopher on the project, Young will consult in the design and set-up of the experiments, the data analysis, interpreting the results, writing the findings and presenting the research. The research will be conducted at HUJI. Young will continue his research on the Philosophy of Olfaction at the University of Nevada, Reno during the academic year and spend his summer breaks at HUJI as a visiting faculty member in order to maintain an active role in the research.

According to Young, by using cutting-edge techniques developed in the laboratories, the two will pose questions to the non-conscious mind, and probe for answers.

"It is one of our working hypotheses that non-conscious mental qualities are a better predictor of human behavior than conscious subjective reports," Young said. "We believe that our research will show that a person's non-conscious reports more accurately measures their ability to exert self-control in achieving long-term goals."

Young stresses that philosophers do not have the ability and resources needed to experimentally test their theories, and do not usually receive collaborative grants of this magnitude.

"At this stage of the project, I am excited at the prospect of transitioning from theorizing about the existence of non-conscious qualitative experiences to actually experimentally testing for and possibly measuring these states," Young said.

While Young works on this project for the next three years, he will be busy continuing his on-going research on the philosophy of smell here at the University. He plans to combine his individual research areas on olfaction into a book that will take into account what we smell, how we represent smells, and the nature of olfactory consciousness. In addition, Young said that his future research deals with formulating a theory of the non-conscious mind, using our capacities for object tracking as a means of individuating the different sensory modalities, and developing a research project exploring the aesthetics of perfume.

"It is my dream to collaborate with other faculty on campus to set up a laboratory space devoted to developing further scientific methods for measuring non-conscious qualitative states."

To learn more about Young's research and to view his publications and other work, visit his website.

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