In this review we consider research on social cognition in which implicit processes can be compared and contrasted with explicit, conscious processes. In each case, their function is distinct, sometimes complementary and sometimes oppositional. We argue that implicit processes in social interaction are automatic and are often opposed to conscious strategies. While we are aware of explicit processes in social interaction, we cannot always use them to override implicit processes. Many studies show that implicit processes facilitate the sharing of knowledge, feelings, and actions, and hence, perhaps surprisingly, serve altruism rather than selfishness. On the other hand, higher-level conscious processes are as likely to be selfish as prosocial.
Automatic implicit processes, and higher-level strategically guided social actions, show an intricate interplay that future studies of social cognition may unravel. If they can do this, we may find ways to prevent some of the deep conflicts between selfishness and altruism that mark human history.