Attention and Consciousness: Two Distinct Brain Processes

Division of Biology 216-76, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA 91125, USA.
Trends in Cognitive Sciences (Impact Factor: 21.97). 02/2007; 11(1):16-22. DOI: 10.1016/j.tics.2006.10.012
Source: PubMed


The close relationship between attention and consciousness has led many scholars to conflate these processes. This article summarizes psychophysical evidence, arguing that top-down attention and consciousness are distinct phenomena that need not occur together and that can be manipulated using distinct paradigms. Subjects can become conscious of an isolated object or the gist of a scene despite the near absence of top-down attention; conversely, subjects can attend to perceptually invisible objects. Furthermore, top-down attention and consciousness can have opposing effects. Such dissociations are easier to understand when the different functions of these two processes are considered. Untangling their tight relationship is necessary for the scientific elucidation of consciousness and its material substrate.

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Available from: Naotsugu Tsuchiya, Feb 18, 2014
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    • "As such, it is possible that autonomously operated goals may guide cognition and behavior independent of conscious intention (Bargh and Ferguson, 2000;Chartrand and Bargh, 2002;Fitzsimons and Bargh, 2004;Bargh, 2005;Dijkstehuis et al., 2007;Ferguson et al., 2008). Such a proposal is consistent with recent research demonstrating that frontal lobe control regions of the brain are not necessarily essential for the generation of conscious volition (Koch and Tsuchiya, 2007). "
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    • "The authors' interpretation is that these early components might very well represent another cognitive process, e.g., visual attention. While this possibility cannot be ruled out because attention and awareness were not independently manipulated in Shafto and Pitts (2015) (for a review on the experimental manipulations used to manipulate awareness and attention, see Koch and Tsuchiya, 2007), an alternative interpretation could also explain their results. In the task-irrelevant condition, Shafto and Pitts (2015) assessed awareness by retrieving the subjective reports after the entire block of trials had concluded. "

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    • "Hace veinte años los neurocientíficos se resistían a estudiar el problema de la conciencia, pero hoy son muchos los trabajos que lo abordan con rigor. Todos ellos tratan de discernir la forma en que los procesos cerebrales causan los estados conscientes y cómo se llevan a cabo esos estados en las estructuras cerebrales (Capurro yQuian Quiroga, 2009;Greenfield, 2011;Koch, 2009Koch, , 2013Koch y Tsuchiya, 2007;Navajas, Rey y Quian Quiroga, 2014;Sporns, 2013;Tononi y Koch, 2008;). Ese objetivo implica un interés acerca de cuáles y cómo son los correlatos neurobiológicos de la conciencia y de entre ellos cuáles son realmente los responsables causales de la producción de la conciencia. "
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