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Trends Cogn Sci. 2019 Sep;23(9):754-768. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2019.06.009. Epub 2019 Jul 30.

Understanding the Higher-Order Approach to Consciousness.

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Philosophy Program LaGuardia Community College, City University of New York, Long Island City, NY, USA.
Department of Psychology and Brain Research Institute, University of California, Los Angeles, CA, USA; Department of Psychology, and State Key Laboratory for Brain and Cognitive Sciences, the University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China.
Center for Neural Science and Department of Psychology, New York University, New York, NY, USA; Departments of Psychiatry and Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, New York University Langone Medical School, New York, NY, USA; Nathan Kline Institute, Orangeburg, NY, USA. Electronic address:


The higher-order theory (HOT) of consciousness has often been misunderstood by critics. Here, we clarify its position on several issues, and distinguish it from other views, such as the global workspace theory (GWT) and early sensory models (e.g., first-order local recurrency theories). For example, HOT has been criticized for overintellectualizing consciousness. We show that, while higher-order states are cognitively assembled, the requirements are in fact considerably less than often presumed. In this sense, HOT may be viewed as an intermediate position between GWT and early sensory views. We also clarify that most proponents of HOT do not stipulate consciousness as equivalent to metacognition or confidence. Furthermore, compared with other existing theories, HOT can arguably account better for complex everyday experiences, such as emotions and episodic memories. This makes HOT particularly useful as a framework for conceptualizing pathological mental states.


consciousness; emotion; global workspace; prefrontal cortex; visual awareness

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