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Understanding levels of consciousness and the transitions between conscious and unconscious states has important theoretical and clinical implications. Yet despite the fact that we typically enter a state of unconsciousness every night, remarkably little is known about how we fall asleep or lose consciousness while getting sedated. In a series of hd-EEG experiments of people falling asleep or getting sedated with propofol, we explored the limits of perceptual and semantic decisions, inhibitory control, top-down and bottom-up target detection and introspection. We found there is a differential modulation of the cognitive control capacities by wakefulness. In the transition to unconsciousness, drowsiness affects inhibitory control and top-down target detection earlier than perceptual and abstract (semantic) decisions. We can take decisions, learn, perceive when losing consciousness and even when unconscious, but these are differentially modulated by wakefulness. We believe these results may help to link experimentally the Information Integration Theory of Consciousness and the Global Neuronal Workspace Theory.

Host: Chris Summerfield

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