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Prog Brain Res. 2005;150:109-26.

Consciousness, information integration, and the brain.

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Department of Psychiatry, University of Wisconsin, 6001 Research Park Blvd, Madison, WI 53719, USA.


Clinical observations have established that certain parts of the brain are essential for consciousness whereas other parts are not. For example, different areas of the cerebral cortex contribute different modalities and submodalities of consciousness, whereas the cerebellum does not, despite having even more neurons. It is also well established that consciousness depends on the way the brain functions. For example, consciousness is much reduced during slow wave sleep and generalized seizures, even though the levels of neural activity are comparable or higher than in wakefulness. To understand why this is so, empirical observations on the neural correlates of consciousness need to be complemented by a principled theoretical approach. Otherwise, it is unlikely that we could ever establish to what extent consciousness is present in neurological conditions such as akinetic mutism, psychomotor seizures, or sleepwalking, and to what extent it is present in newborn babies and animals. A principled approach is provided by the information integration theory of consciousness. This theory claims that consciousness corresponds to a system's capacity to integrate information, and proposes a way to measure such capacity. The information integration theory can account for several neurobiological observations concerning consciousness, including: (i) the association of consciousness with certain neural systems rather than with others; (ii) the fact that neural processes underlying consciousness can influence or be influenced by neural processes that remain unconscious; (iii) the reduction of consciousness during dreamless sleep and generalized seizures; and (iv) the time requirements on neural interactions that support consciousness.

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