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Concept: Qualia


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


We tested whether eye color influences perception of trustworthiness. Facial photographs of 40 female and 40 male students were rated for perceived trustworthiness. Eye color had a significant effect, the brown-eyed faces being perceived as more trustworthy than the blue-eyed ones. Geometric morphometrics, however, revealed significant correlations between eye color and face shape. Thus, face shape likewise had a significant effect on perceived trustworthiness but only for male faces, the effect for female faces not being significant. To determine whether perception of trustworthiness was being influenced primarily by eye color or by face shape, we recolored the eyes on the same male facial photos and repeated the test procedure. Eye color now had no effect on perceived trustworthiness. We concluded that although the brown-eyed faces were perceived as more trustworthy than the blue-eyed ones, it was not brown eye color per se that caused the stronger perception of trustworthiness but rather the facial features associated with brown eyes.

Concepts: Eye, Photoreceptor cell, Color, Qualia, Rod cell, Cone cell, Human eye, Eye color


Synesthesia is a phenomenon where a stimulus produces consistent extraordinary subjective experiences. A relatively common type of synesthesia involves perception of color when viewing letters (e.g. the letter ‘a’ always appears as light blue). In this study, we examine whether traits typically regarded as markers of synesthesia can be acquired by simply reading in color.

Concepts: Light, Color, Green, Blue, Purple, Qualia, Synesthesia, Azure


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


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


BACKGROUND: Coloured-hearing (CH) synesthesia is a perceptual phenomenon in which an acoustic stimulus (the inducer) initiates a concurrent colour perception (the concurrent). Individuals with CH synesthesia “see” colours when hearing tones, words, or music; this specific phenomenon suggesting a close relationship between auditory and visual representations. To date, it is still unknown whether the perception of colours is associated with a modulation of brain functions in the inducing brain area, namely in the auditory-related cortex and associated brain areas. In addition, there is an on-going debate as to whether attention to the inducer is necessarily required for eliciting a visual concurrent, or whether the latter can emerge in a pre-attentive fashion. RESULTS: By using the EEG technique in the context of a pre-attentive mismatch negativity (MMN) paradigm, we show that the binding of tones and colours in CH synesthetes is associated with increased MMN amplitudes in response to deviant tones supposed to induce novel concurrent colour perceptions. Most notably, the increased MMN amplitudes we revealed in the CH synesthetes were associated with stronger intracerebral current densities originating from the auditory cortex, parietal cortex, and ventral visual areas. CONCLUSIONS: The automatic binding of tones and colours in CH synesthetes is accompanied by an early pre-attentive process recruiting the auditory cortex, inferior and superior parietal lobules, as well as ventral occipital areas.

Concepts: Brain, Cerebrum, Perception, Color, Sense, Thalamus, Qualia, Philosophy of perception


We experience the world as a seamless stream of percepts. However, intriguing illusions and recent experiments suggest that the world is not continuously translated into conscious perception. Instead, perception seems to operate in a discrete manner, just like movies appear continuous although they consist of discrete images. To explain how the temporal resolution of human vision can be fast compared to sluggish conscious perception, we propose a novel conceptual framework in which features of objects, such as their color, are quasi-continuously and unconsciously analyzed with high temporal resolution. Like other features, temporal features, such as duration, are coded as quantitative labels. When unconscious processing is “completed,” all features are simultaneously rendered conscious at discrete moments in time, sometimes even hundreds of milliseconds after stimuli were presented.

Concepts: Time, Psychology, Mind, Consciousness, Concept, Qualia, Unconscious mind, Illusion


Emotional states of consciousness, or what are typically called emotional feelings, are traditionally viewed as being innately programmed in subcortical areas of the brain, and are often treated as different from cognitive states of consciousness, such as those related to the perception of external stimuli. We argue that conscious experiences, regardless of their content, arise from one system in the brain. In this view, what differs in emotional and nonemotional states are the kinds of inputs that are processed by a general cortical network of cognition, a network essential for conscious experiences. Although subcortical circuits are not directly responsible for conscious feelings, they provide nonconscious inputs that coalesce with other kinds of neural signals in the cognitive assembly of conscious emotional experiences. In building the case for this proposal, we defend a modified version of what is known as the higher-order theory of consciousness.

Concepts: Psychology, Brain, Human brain, Cognition, Cerebral cortex, Mind, Consciousness, Qualia


Do people know when, or whether, they have made a conscious choice? Here, we explore the possibility that choices can seem to occur before they are actually made. In two studies, participants were asked to quickly choose from a set of options before a randomly selected option was made salient. Even when they believed that they had made their decision prior to this event, participants were significantly more likely than chance to report choosing the salient option when this option was made salient soon after the perceived time of choice. Thus, without participants' awareness, a seemingly later event influenced choices that were experienced as occurring at an earlier time. These findings suggest that, like certain low-level perceptual experiences, the experience of choice is susceptible to “postdictive” influence and that people may systematically overestimate the role that consciousness plays in their chosen behavior.

Concepts: Decision theory, Decision making software, Mind, Experience, Concepts in metaphysics, Free will, Choice, Qualia


Introduction: Synaesthesia is a phenomenon in which a certain stimulus induces a concurrent sensory perception; it has an estimated prevalence of 4%. Sexual arousal as an inducer for synaesthetic perceptions is rarely mentioned in the literature but can be found sometimes in case reports about subjective orgasmic experiences. Aims: To examine whether synaesthetic perceptions during sexual intercourse have an impact on the sexual experience and the extent of sexual trance compared to non-synaesthetes. Methods: In total, 19 synaesthetes with sexual forms of synaesthesia (17 female; 2 male) were included as well as corresponding control data of 36 non-synaesthetic subjects (n = 55). Two questionnaires were used to assess relevant aspects of sexual function and dysfunction (a German adaption of the Brief Index of Sexual Functioning, KFSP) as well as the occurrence and extent of sexual trance (German version of the Altered States of Consciousness Questionnaire, OAVAV). Additionally qualitative interviews were conducted in some subjects to further explore the nature of sexual experiences in synaesthetes. Main Outcome Measures: Sexual experience and extent of sexual trance during intercourse. Results: Synaesthetes depicted significantly better overall sexual function on the KFSP with increased scores for the subscale “sexual appetence” but coevally significant lower subscale scores for “sexual satisfaction.” Sexual dysfunction was not detected in this sample. Synaesthetes depicted significantly higher levels of the subscales “oceanic boundlessness” and “visionary restructuralization” than controls using the OAVAV. Qualitative interviews revealed varying synaesthetic perceptions during the different states of arousal. Furthermore, synaesthetes reported an unsatisfactory feeling of isolation caused by the idiosyncratic perceptions. Conclusions: Synaesthetes with sexual forms of synaesthesia seem to experience a deeper state of sexual trance without, however, enhanced satisfaction during sexual intercourse.

Concepts: Sexual intercourse, Orgasm, Qualia, Sexuality, Erection, Sexual arousal, Sexual function, Sexual dysfunction