Conscious awareness... Think about it!

What is conscious awareness? An EU-funded study went looking for answers to this eternal question using advanced technology. The findings provide insight into what motivates or interests people, and the perception process behind powerful neurological drivers of human behaviour.

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Countries
Countries
  Algeria
  Argentina
  Australia
  Austria
  Bangladesh
  Belarus
  Belgium
  Benin
  Bolivia
  Brazil
  Bulgaria
  Burkina Faso
  Cambodia
  Cameroon
  Canada
  Cape Verde
  Chile
  China
  Colombia
  Costa Rica
  Croatia
  Cyprus
  Czech Republic
  Denmark
  Ecuador
  Egypt
  Estonia
  Ethiopia
  Faroe Islands
  Finland
  France
  French Polynesia
  Georgia


 

Published: 28 May 2018  
Related theme(s) and subtheme(s)
Health & life sciencesNeuroscience
Information societyInformation technology
International cooperation
Countries involved in the project described in the article
Israel
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Conscious awareness... Think about it!

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© Vuk Saric #198857191, 2018. Source: fotolia.com

“I think, therefore I am.” This famous quote, attributed to the French philosopher and scientist René Descartes, captures the essence of human consciousness: our ability to think about the world and our place in it. Despite centuries of theoretical tinkering and decades of experimental research, a complete answer to the question ‘What is the functional significance of conscious awareness?’ largely eludes us.

The EU-funded CONSCIOUSNESS ONLINE project addressed this fundamental psychological question by capitalising on the latest neuroscientific developments made possible thanks to advanced technology and online investigation.

Its findings pave the way to a more systematic and enlightened understanding of consciousness, its functions, and related fields of motivation and, by extension, social studies.

The Marie Skłodowska-Curie research fellow behind the study constructed a real-time system to track and analyse electrical activity in the brain using EEG readings, and then presented it to the subject as sensory feedback. In other words, studying data collected by making people conscious of their consciousness.

“The system can be ‘trained’ to detect unconscious neural events as they unfold, and present them to the subject online, turning these unconscious events into consciously accessible ones,” note the team about the learning ability of the tools developed for the study.

Acting on your own volition

If someone does something on their own volition, it is their will or choice. The researcher carried out four experiments to investigate the role of consciousness in volitional control, using a testing paradigm called binocular rivalry (BR).

In BR, the subject’s perception alternates between two stimuli presented simultaneously but separately to each eye. Previous studies showed that subjects can control these alternations, but only to a limited extent. Unconscious processes tend to cause perceptual alternations at unpredictable times.

The CONSCIOUSNESS ONLINE study asked subjects to try and control their responses to the BR effect, while being presented with real-time sensory feedback about the unconscious processes leading to upcoming alternations (stimuli). The greater the control of this so-called rivalry – over an otherwise unconscious neural activity – the stronger the insight gained about the widely debated role of consciousness in volitional control.

Project details

  • Project acronym: CONSCIOUSNESS ONLINE
  • Participants: Israel (Coordinator)
  • Project N°: 659765
  • Total costs: € 182 509
  • EU contribution: € 182 509
  • Duration: June 2015 to May 2017

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