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Front. Psychol., 31 October 2013 | http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00625

Consciousness in humans and non-human animals: recent advances and future directions

  • 1Department of Neurology, University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI, USA
  • 2Department of Psychiatry, Center for Sleep and Consciousness, University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI, USA
  • 3Coma Science Group, Cyclotron Research Centre and Neurology Department, University of Liege and CHU Sart Tilman Hospital, Liege, Belgium
  • 4Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science, University of Sussex, Brighton, UK
  • 5Department of Informatics, University of Sussex, Brighton, UK
  • 6Department of Cognitive Neurology, University Medical School Goettingen, Goettingen, Germany
  • 7German Primate Center, Leibniz Institute for Primate Research, Goettingen, Germany
  • 8Mind Science Foundation, San Antonio, TX, USA
  • 9The Neurosciences Institute, La Jolla, CA, USA
  • 10Science and Mathematics, Bennington College, Bennington, VT, USA
  • 11Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences, School of Psychology and Psychiatry, Monash University, Clayton, VIC, Australia
  • 12Decoding and Controlling Brain Information, Japan Science and Technology Agency, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo, Japan

This joint article reflects the authors' personal views regarding noteworthy advances in the neuroscience of consciousness in the last 10 years, and suggests what we feel may be promising future directions. It is based on a small conference at the Samoset Resort in Rockport, Maine, USA, in July of 2012, organized by the Mind Science Foundation of San Antonio, Texas. Here, we summarize recent advances in our understanding of subjectivity in humans and other animals, including empirical, applied, technical, and conceptual insights. These include the evidence for the importance of fronto-parietal connectivity and of “top-down” processes, both of which enable information to travel across distant cortical areas effectively, as well as numerous dissociations between consciousness and cognitive functions, such as attention, in humans. In addition, we describe the development of mental imagery paradigms, which made it possible to identify covert awareness in non-responsive subjects. Non-human animal consciousness research has also witnessed substantial advances on the specific role of cortical areas and higher order thalamus for consciousness, thanks to important technological enhancements. In addition, much progress has been made in the understanding of non-vertebrate cognition relevant to possible conscious states. Finally, major advances have been made in theories of consciousness, and also in their comparison with the available evidence. Along with reviewing these findings, each author suggests future avenues for research in their field of investigation.

Keywords: consciousness, animals, human cognition, theoretical neuroscience, biotechnology, neuroimaging

Citation: Boly M, Seth AK, Wilke M, Ingmundson P, Baars B, Laureys S, Edelman DB and Tsuchiya N (2013) Consciousness in humans and non-human animals: recent advances and future directions. Front. Psychol. 4:625. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00625

Received: 11 March 2013; Accepted: 24 August 2013;
Published online: 31 October 2013.

Edited by:

Olivia Carter, University of Melbourne, Australia

Reviewed by:

Alexander Maier, Vanderbilt University, USA
Ned Block, New York University, USA

Copyright © 2013 Boly, Seth, Wilke, Ingmundson, Baars, Laureys, Edelman and Tsuchiya. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) or licensor are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

*Correspondence: Melanie Boly, Department of Neurology, University of Wisconsin, 6001 Research Park Boulevard, Madison, WI 53719, USA e-mail: boly@wisc.edu