Researchers at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem have discovered that your brain reads and does basic math before you’re even aware of it:
In a series of experiments at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, more than 300 student participants were unconsciously exposed to words and equations through a research technique known as Continuous Flash Suppression (CFS). With this method, a static image appears in front of one eye while rapidly changing pictures flash in front of the other eye. The changing pictures dominate awareness at first, letting the still image register subliminally before popping into consciousness.
In the first part of the study, one eye was presented with a static phrase or sentence, which was "masked" by changing colorful shapes flashing in front of the other eye. The students were instructed to press a button as soon as they became aware of the words. It usually took about a second, but negative phrases like "human trafficking" and jarring sentences such as "I ironed the coffee" typically registered quicker than positive expressions and more coherent phrases such as "I ironed clothes," the study found.
The researchers say these results suggest that the sentences were fully read and comprehended subconsciously, and certain phrases broke out of suppression faster because they were more surprising.
In the second part of the study, the scientists examined how the unconscious brain processes math problems. Using the CFS technique again, the researchers subliminally exposed the participants to three-digit equations, such as "9 − 3 − 4," for two seconds or less. Then, the participants were shown a number (without CFS masking it) and told to say it out loud. The students were quicker to read aloud a number that was the right answer to the equation they had just subconsciously seen. For example, after being exposed to "9 − 3 − 4," they were quicker to pronounce "2" than "3." This suggests they subconsciously worked out the problem and had the answer on their lips ( via livescience.com ).