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J Neurosci. 2014 Mar 19;34(12):4382-95. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1820-13.2014.

Spatiotemporal dissociation of brain activity underlying subjective awareness, objective performance and confidence.

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National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland 20892.


Despite intense recent research, the neural correlates of conscious visual perception remain elusive. The most established paradigm for studying brain mechanisms underlying conscious perception is to keep the physical sensory inputs constant and identify brain activities that correlate with the changing content of conscious awareness. However, such a contrast based on conscious content alone would not only reveal brain activities directly contributing to conscious perception, but also include brain activities that precede or follow it. To address this issue, we devised a paradigm whereby we collected, trial-by-trial, measures of objective performance, subjective awareness, and the confidence level of subjective awareness. Using magnetoencephalography recordings in healthy human volunteers, we dissociated brain activities underlying these different cognitive phenomena. Our results provide strong evidence that widely distributed slow cortical potentials (SCPs) correlate with subjective awareness, even after the effects of objective performance and confidence were both removed. The SCP correlate of conscious perception manifests strongly in its waveform, phase, and power. In contrast, objective performance and confidence were both contributed by relatively transient brain activity. These results shed new light on the brain mechanisms of conscious, unconscious, and metacognitive processing.


MEG; conscious perception; metacognition; slow cortical potential; subjective awareness; visual perception

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