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.
© 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 subjects 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.