Conscious and Nonconscious Processes:Distinct Forms of Evidence Accumulation?
Among the many brain events evoked by a visual stimulus, which ones are associated specifically with conscious perception, and which merely reflect nonconscious processing? Understanding the neuronal mechanisms of consciousness is a major challenge for cognitive neuroscience. Recently, progress has been achieved by contrasting behavior and brain activation in minimally different experimental conditions, one of which leads to conscious perception whereas the other does not. This chapter reviews briefly this line of research and speculates on its theoretical interpretation. I propose to draw links between evidence accumulation models, which are highly successful in capturing elementary psychophysical decisions, and the conscious/nonconscious dichotomy. In this framework, conscious access would correspond to the crossing of a threshold in evidence accumulation within a distributed global workspace, a set of recurrently connected neurons with long axons that is able to integrate and broadcast back evidence from multiple brain processors. During nonconscious processing, evidence would be accumulated locally within specialized subcircuits, but would fail to reach the threshold needed for global ignition and, therefore, conscious reportability.
KeywordsAttentional Blink Psychological Refractory Period Conscious Perception Evidence Accumulation Subliminal Priming
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