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Examining Subjective Experience: Advances in Neurophenomenology

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The study of subjective experience represents a significant challenge to cognitive scientists, but one that is beginning to be addressed with increasing rigor. Subjectivity renders experience less amenable to traditional objective scientific measurements than other subject matter. Nevertheless, when seeking ...

The study of subjective experience represents a significant challenge to cognitive scientists, but one that is beginning to be addressed with increasing rigor. Subjectivity renders experience less amenable to traditional objective scientific measurements than other subject matter. Nevertheless, when seeking to understand the mind, subjectivity must ultimately be investigated and understood. After decades of skepticism and mistrust concerning the validity of introspection and subjective report, researchers are beginning to return to these approaches with renewed interest. Neurophenomenology is an approach that seeks to integrate valid first-person subjective information with third-person objective measures to gain a more complete understanding of the human mind.

As the field of cognitive neuroscience continues to advance, the development of rigorous neurophenomenological methods to probe the subjective contents of the mind will be increasingly essential. Areas where this approach is highly relevant include the subjective experience of perception, attention, memory, the self, motivation, volition, emotion, spontaneous cognition, mind-wandering, and craving and addiction. Examples of recently used methods for probing subjective experience in cognitive neuroscience protocols include experience sampling, the explicitation interview, phenomenological qualitative research, hypnosis, and meditation or contemplative practices. This work has yielded new insights into the modalities of subjective experience and their neural underpinnings, but many central questions still remain.

In this Research Topic, we seek to collect innovative contributions that further the goals of neurophenomenology. Both primary research reports as well as theoretical or methodological papers are encouraged. Possible topics include but are not limited to:

  • relating moment-to-moment fluctuations in the subjective experience of attention, emotion, and awareness to dynamic neural activity (i.e., fMRI, MEG, EEG), physiology and/or behavior
  • spontaneous cognition in task-free or low-task-demand situations
  • sleep and dream reports, including lucid dream reports, in relation to the neural correlates of sleep and dreaming
  • characterizing attention in hypnosis and its relation to attention in meditation
  • the neural correlates of meta-awareness of conscious states
  • characterizing different modes of self-experience and their neural correlates
  • characterizing the subjective experience of intending and volition and relating them to neural measures in paradigms calling for decision-making and intentional action
  • relating the subjective experience of craving to the neurobiology of addiction


We would like to highlight work that puts forth creative new methods for probing subjective experience in real-world and laboratory settings, and for eliciting more refined and informative first-person reports. While the main emphasis in this area involves investigating neural correlates of subjective states, work that is not strictly neuroscience-based (i.e., examining other physiological correlates or psychological/behavioral measures) is also encouraged for this collection. We hope that this issue will help advance the field of neurophenomenology, and serve as a resource for those wishing to study the complexities of human experience in an integrative way.

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