Physicist Leonard Mlodinow joined John for an eye-opening examination of how the unconscious mind shapes our perception of the world. Unlike the classic Freudian concept, which depicted an "emotional unconscious that is hidden from you," but can be accessed via therapeutic means, Mlodinow said that the modern science has developed a far different definition more akin to the subliminal. This "new unconscious," he explained, "takes place in parts of your brain that are inherently inaccessible to your conscious mind." With the advent of FMRI machines, scientists can now see what parts of the brain are driving emotions and activity which has "turned this idea of the science of the unconscious into a hard science."
On how the unconscious plays a role in consumer decisions, Mlodinow cited a study where people sampled a 90 dollar bottle of wine as well as a 10 dollar bottle of wine and the subjects said that they preferred the more expensive version. However, each of the samples were actually the same wine with different price labels. The participants in the study imbibed their samples while undergoing an FMRI exam and the results actually showed increased activity in the pleasure centers of the brain when the person drank the "expensive" wine. Mlodinow also described similar studies where the color of a detergent box or an imperceptible scent applied to a product can result in a person believing that it is superior to its competitors.
One slightly more troubling insight into the unconscious is how it appears to effect the way people vote. Mlodinow detailed how, when a voter has limited information about a candidate, their unconscious mind will "fill things in" and make a judgement about the person's competence based on their looks, particularly their face. To that end, he noted that a Princeton psychologist performed a study where he showed subjects pairs of candidates from hundreds of upcoming elections and asked for an assessment of their competence. The psychologist then took the "winners" of these tests and predicted the actual election results with a 70% degree of accuracy. "No political science there, no polling, nothing about the issues or the parties," Mlodinow said, marveling at the surreptitious sway of the unconscious mind.