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Front Hum Neurosci. 2016 Jun 30;10:310. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2016.00310. eCollection 2016.

Cortical Neural Synchronization Underlies Primary Visual Consciousness of Qualia: Evidence from Event-Related Potentials.

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Department of Physiology and Pharmacology "Vittorio Erspamer", Sapienza University of RomeRome, Italy; Department of Neuroscience, IRCCS San Raffaele PisanaRome, Italy.
Department of Integrated Imaging, IRCCS SDN Naples, Italy.
Department of Integrated Imaging, IRCCS SDNNaples, Italy; Department of Motor Sciences and Healthiness, University of Naples ParthenopeNaples, Italy.
Department of Physiology and Pharmacology "Vittorio Erspamer", Sapienza University of Rome Rome, Italy.
Gerontology Research Group, Department of Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of A Coruña A Coruña, Spain.


This article reviews three experiments on event-related potentials (ERPs) testing the hypothesis that primary visual consciousness (stimulus self-report) is related to enhanced cortical neural synchronization as a function of stimulus features. ERP peak latency and sources were compared between "seen" trials and "not seen" trials, respectively related and unrelated to the primary visual consciousness. Three salient features of visual stimuli were considered (visuospatial, emotional face expression, and written words). Results showed the typical visual ERP components in both "seen" and "not seen" trials. There was no statistical difference in the ERP peak latencies between the "seen" and "not seen" trials, suggesting a similar timing of the cortical neural synchronization regardless the primary visual consciousness. In contrast, ERP sources showed differences between "seen" and "not seen" trials. For the visuospatial stimuli, the primary consciousness was related to higher activity in dorsal occipital and parietal sources at about 400 ms post-stimulus. For the emotional face expressions, there was greater activity in parietal and frontal sources at about 180 ms post-stimulus. For the written letters, there was higher activity in occipital, parietal and temporal sources at about 230 ms post-stimulus. These results hint that primary visual consciousness is associated with an enhanced cortical neural synchronization having entirely different spatiotemporal characteristics as a function of the features of the visual stimuli and possibly, the relative qualia (i.e., visuospatial, face expression, and words). In this framework, the dorsal visual stream may be synchronized in association with the primary consciousness of visuospatial and emotional face contents. Analogously, both dorsal and ventral visual streams may be synchronized in association with the primary consciousness of linguistic contents. In this line of reasoning, the ensemble of the cortical neural networks underpinning the single visual features would constitute a sort of multi-dimensional palette of colors, shapes, regions of the visual field, movements, emotional face expressions, and words. The synchronization of one or more of these cortical neural networks, each with its peculiar timing, would produce the primary consciousness of one or more of the visual features of the scene.


cortical neural synchronization; dorsal visual stream; event-related potentials (ERPs); high-resolution electroencephalography (EEG); primary visual consciousness; qualia; ventral visual stream

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