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J Biol Phys. 2007 Feb;33(1):49-59. doi: 10.1007/s10867-007-9041-4. Epub 2007 Jul 21.

Fluctuations in neuronal synchronization in brain activity correlate with the subjective experience of visual recognition.

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Brain and Behaviour Programme, Department of Paediatrics and Division of Neurology, Hospital for Sick Children and University of Toronto, Toronto, ON M5G1X8, Canada.


The scientific study of subjective experience is a current major research area in the neurosciences. Coordination patterns of brain activity are being studied to address the question of how brain function relates to behaviour, and particularly methods to estimate neuronal synchronization can unravel the spatio-temporal dynamics of the transient formation of neuronal assemblies. We report here a biophysical correlate of subjective experience. Subjects visualised figures with different levels of noise, while their brain activity was recorded using magnetoencephalography (MEG), and reported the moment in time (corresponding to a noise level) of figure recognition, which varied between individuals, as well as the moment when they saw the figure more clearly, which was mostly common among the participants (thus less subjective). This latter moment is considered to represent psychophysical stochastic resonance (PSR). Fluctuations in neuronal synchronization, quantified using a diffusion coefficient, were lower in occipital cortex when subjects recognised the figure, for a certain noise level, but did not correlate with the moment of PSR. A different pattern was observed in frontal cortex, where lower values of the diffusion coefficient in neuronal synchronization was maintained from the moment of recognition to the moment of PSR. No specific pattern was found analysing signals from temporal or parietal cortical areas. These observations provide support for distinct synchronization patterns in different cortical areas, and represent another demonstration that the subjective, first-person perspective is accessible to scientific methods.

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