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Concept: Consciousness


Emotions are often felt in the body, and somatosensory feedback has been proposed to trigger conscious emotional experiences. Here we reveal maps of bodily sensations associated with different emotions using a unique topographical self-report method. In five experiments, participants (n = 701) were shown two silhouettes of bodies alongside emotional words, stories, movies, or facial expressions. They were asked to color the bodily regions whose activity they felt increasing or decreasing while viewing each stimulus. Different emotions were consistently associated with statistically separable bodily sensation maps across experiments. These maps were concordant across West European and East Asian samples. Statistical classifiers distinguished emotion-specific activation maps accurately, confirming independence of topographies across emotions. We propose that emotions are represented in the somatosensory system as culturally universal categorical somatotopic maps. Perception of these emotion-triggered bodily changes may play a key role in generating consciously felt emotions.

Concepts: Statistics, Sense, Mind, Consciousness, Probability theory, Qualia, Topography, Body


What is the level of consciousness of the psychedelic state? Empirically, measures of neural signal diversity such as entropy and Lempel-Ziv (LZ) complexity score higher for wakeful rest than for states with lower conscious level like propofol-induced anesthesia. Here we compute these measures for spontaneous magnetoencephalographic (MEG) signals from humans during altered states of consciousness induced by three psychedelic substances: psilocybin, ketamine and LSD. For all three, we find reliably higher spontaneous signal diversity, even when controlling for spectral changes. This increase is most pronounced for the single-channel LZ complexity measure, and hence for temporal, as opposed to spatial, signal diversity. We also uncover selective correlations between changes in signal diversity and phenomenological reports of the intensity of psychedelic experience. This is the first time that these measures have been applied to the psychedelic state and, crucially, that they have yielded values exceeding those of normal waking consciousness. These findings suggest that the sustained occurrence of psychedelic phenomenology constitutes an elevated level of consciousness - as measured by neural signal diversity.

Concepts: Philosophy of mind, Consciousness, Unconscious mind, Phenomenology, Psychedelic drug, Altered state of consciousness, 8-Circuit Model of Consciousness


The ability to infer intentions of other agents, called theory of mind (ToM), confers strong advantages for individuals in social situations. Here, we show that ToM can also be maladaptive when people interact with complex modern institutions like financial markets. We tested participants who were investing in an experimental bubble market, a situation in which the price of an asset is much higher than its underlying fundamental value. We describe a mechanism by which social signals computed in the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex affect value computations in ventromedial prefrontal cortex, thereby increasing an individual’s propensity to ‘ride’ financial bubbles and lose money. These regions compute a financial metric that signals variations in order flow intensity, prompting inference about other traders' intentions. Our results suggest that incorporating inferences about the intentions of others when making value judgments in a complex financial market could lead to the formation of market bubbles.

Concepts: Brain, Economics, Cerebrum, Consciousness, Computer, Prefrontal cortex, Ventromedial prefrontal cortex, Bank


One may have experienced his or her footsteps unconsciously synchronize with the footsteps of a friend while walking together, or heard an audience’s clapping hands naturally synchronize into a steady rhythm. However, the mechanisms of body movement synchrony and the role of this phenomenon in implicit interpersonal interactions remain unclear. We aimed to evaluate unconscious body movement synchrony changes as an index of implicit interpersonal interaction between the participants, and also to assess the underlying neural correlates and functional connectivity among and within the brain regions. We found that synchrony of both fingertip movement and neural activity between the two participants increased after cooperative interaction. These results suggest that the increase of interpersonal body movement synchrony via interpersonal interaction can be a measurable basis of implicit social interaction. The paradigm provides a tool for identifying the behavioral and the neural correlates of implicit social interaction.

Concepts: Central nervous system, Psychology, Sociology, Human brain, Consciousness, Interpersonal relationship, Synchronization, Synchronism


Re-entrant feedback, either within sensory cortex or arising from prefrontal areas, has been strongly linked to the emergence of consciousness, both in theoretical and experimental work. This idea, together with evidence for local micro-consciousness, suggests the generation of qualia could in some way result from local network activity under re-entrant activation. This paper explores the possibility by examining the processing of information by local cortical networks. It highlights the difference between the information structure (how the information is physically embodied), and the information message (what the information is about). It focuses on the network’s ability to recognize information structures amongst its inputs under conditions of extensive local feedback, and to then assign information messages to those structures. It is shown that if the re-entrant feedback enables the network to achieve an attractor state, then the message assigned in any given pass of information through the network is a representation of the message assigned in the previous pass-through of information. Based on this ability the paper argues that as information is repeatedly cycled through the network, the information message that is assigned evolves from a recognition of what the input structure is, to what it is like, to how it appears, to how it seems. It could enable individual networks to be the site of qualia generation. The paper goes on to show networks in cortical layers 2/3 and 5a have the connectivity required for the behavior proposed, and reviews some evidence for a link between such local cortical cyclic activity and conscious percepts. It concludes with some predictions based on the theory discussed.

Concepts: Cerebral cortex, Perception, Consciousness, Information, Cortical column, Robert Duvall, Computer network, Qualia


Intentions, including their temporal properties and semantic content, are receiving increased attention, and neuroscientific studies in humans vary with respect to the topography of intention-related neural responses. This may reflect the fact that the kind of intentions investigated in one study may not be exactly the same kind investigated in the other. Fine-grained intention taxonomies developed in the philosophy of mind may be useful to identify the neural correlates of well-defined types of intentions, as well as to disentangle them from other related mental states, such as mere urges to perform an action. Intention-related neural signals may be exploited by brain-machine interfaces (BMIs) that are currently being developed to restore speech and motor control in paralyzed patients. Such BMI devices record the brain activity of the agent, interpret (“decode”) the agent’s intended action, and send the corresponding execution command to an artificial effector system, e.g., a computer cursor or a robotic arm. In the present paper, we evaluate the potential of intention concepts from philosophy of mind to improve the performance and safety of BMIs based on higher-order, intention-related control signals. To this end, we address the distinction between future-, present-directed, and motor intentions, as well as the organization of intentions in time, specifically to what extent it is sequential or hierarchical. This has consequences as to whether these different types of intentions can be expected to occur simultaneously or not. We further illustrate how it may be useful or even necessary to distinguish types of intentions exposited in philosophy, including yes- vs. no-intentions and oblique vs. direct intentions, to accurately decode the agent’s intentions from neural signals in practical BMI applications.

Concepts: Psychology, Brain, Neuroscience, Philosophy of mind, Mind, Consciousness, Artificial intelligence, Intentionality


Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) allows for non-invasive interference with ongoing neural processing. Applied in a chronometric design over early visual cortex (EVC), TMS has proved valuable in indicating at which particular time point EVC must remain unperturbed for (conscious) vision to be established. In the current study, we set out to examine the effect of EVC TMS across a broad range of time points, both before (pre-stimulus) and after (post-stimulus) the onset of symbolic visual stimuli. Behavioral priming studies have shown that the behavioral impact of a visual stimulus can be independent from its conscious perception, suggesting two independent neural signatures. To assess whether TMS-induced suppression of visual awareness can be dissociated from behavioral priming in the temporal domain, we thus implemented three different measures of visual processing, namely performance on a standard visual discrimination task, a subjective rating of stimulus visibility, and a visual priming task. To control for non-neural TMS effects, we performed electrooculographical recordings, placebo TMS (sham), and control site TMS (vertex). Our results suggest that, when considering the appropriate control data, the temporal pattern of EVC TMS disruption on visual discrimination, subjective awareness and behavioral priming are not dissociable. Instead, TMS to EVC disrupts visual perception holistically, both when applied before and after the onset of a visual stimulus. The current findings are discussed in light of their implications on models of visual awareness and (subliminal) priming.

Concepts: Brain, Visual perception, Visual system, Perception, Consciousness, Transcranial magnetic stimulation, Amblyopia, Lateral geniculate nucleus


Part of the sensory information is processed by our central nervous system without conscious perception. Subconscious processing has been shown to be capable of triggering motor reactions. In the present study, we asked the question whether visual information, which is not consciously perceived, could influence decision-making in a choice reaction task. Ten healthy subjects (28±5 years) executed two different experimental protocols. In the Motor reaction protocol, a visual target cue was shown on a computer screen. Depending on the displayed cue, subjects had to either complete a reaching movement (go-condition) or had to abort the movement (stop-condition). The cue was presented with different display durations (20-160 ms). In the second Verbalization protocol, subjects verbalized what they experienced on the screen. Again, the cue was presented with different display durations. This second protocol tested for conscious perception of the visual cue. The results of this study show that subjects achieved significantly more correct responses in the Motor reaction protocol than in the Verbalization protocol. This difference was only observed at the very short display durations of the visual cue. Since correct responses in the Verbalization protocol required conscious perception of the visual information, our findings imply that the subjects performed correct motor responses to visual cues, which they were not conscious about. It is therefore concluded that humans may reach decisions based on subconscious visual information in a choice reaction task.

Concepts: Central nervous system, Nervous system, Brain, Sensory system, Sense, Mind, Consciousness, Qualia


People often feel like their minds and their bodies are in different places. Far from an exotic experience, this phenomenon seems to be a ubiquitous facet of human life (e.g., Killingsworth and Gilbert, 2010). Many times, people’s minds seem to go “somewhere else”-attention becomes disconnected from perception, and people’s minds wander to times and places removed from the current environment (e.g., Schooler et al., 2004). At other times, however, people’s minds may seem to go nowhere at all-they simply disappear. This mental state-mind-blanking-may represent an extreme decoupling of perception and attention, one in which attention fails to bring any stimuli into conscious awareness. In the present research, we outline the properties of mind-blanking, differentiating this mental state from other mental states in terms of phenomenological experience, behavioral outcomes, and underlying cognitive processes. Seven experiments suggest that when the mind seems to disappear, there are times when we have simply failed to monitor its whereabouts-and there are times when it is actually gone.

Concepts: Psychology, Cognition, Cognitive science, Perception, Mind, Consciousness, Thought, Behaviorism


A foundational issue in the study of unconscious processing concerns whether the stimuli of interest are truly out of awareness. Objective methods employing forced choice are typically championed as the gold standard and widely thought to be conservative. Here, however, as a case study, we demonstrate an underestimation of awareness in a collection of studies on unconscious cognitive control. Specifically, we found that (a) in addition to genuine unawareness, chance performance could be due to a failure to perform the task; (b) visual awareness for low-visibility trials was elevated when mixed with high-visibility trials compared with when presented alone as demonstrated in both objective awareness (forced-choice performance) and subjective awareness (rating based on a perceptual awareness scale); and © the elevation effect was partly due to a shape-specific template enhancement at both the block and intertrial levels. We term the awareness elevation effect priming of awareness: Visual priming fundamentally alters awareness, boosting otherwise invisible objects into consciousness. These results implicate two key requirements for measuring awareness: (a) verify that participants are truly performing the awareness task and (b) use all types of trials in the awareness test as in the main experiment. Priming of awareness is consistent with an expanded model of awareness and top-down attention in which awareness is determined by (a) retinal stimulus strength and (b) both goal-dependent and goal-independent extra-retinal modulation.

Concepts: Measurement, Cognition, Cognitive science, Mind, Consciousness, Test method, Performance, Unconscious mind