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A Prefrontal Theory of Conscious Perception & Its Application in Fear Extinction

I critically compare current major accounts of conscious visual perception. Several early visual accounts (Lamme's, Zeki's, and Malach's) are rejected because conscious perception critically depends on neural activity outside of visual cortex; using neurofeedback & brain stimulation we can systematically manipulate prefrontal activity and change conscious perception accordingly. Tononi's information integration theory is disfavored because currently it does not make unique predictions that are empirically confirmed / confirmable. Dehaene's global workspace view assumes unique cognitive functions for consciousness, and these assumptions seem incompatible with current data. Furthermore it suggests a strong positive link between attention and conscious perception, which we show to be problematic; attention, if anything, undermines subjective awareness, when its basic perceptual effects are controlled for. This analysis favors a view according to which conscious perception depends on metacognitive decision mechanisms in the prefrontal cortex. An important test of the theory is on its ability to generate potentially useful applications, one of which concerns the possibility of conducting effective exposure therapy for anxiety disorders outside of awareness. I present preliminary results for this novel treatment strategy using neurofeedback techniques.

Host: Chris Summerfield

Note that this talk will take place in the Schlich Lecture Theatre in the Department of Plant Sciences (just opposite EP).