The Neural Substrates of Conscious Perception without Performance Confounds

In Felipe De Brigard & Walter Sinnott-Armstrong (eds.), Anthology of Neuroscience and Philosophy (forthcoming)
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Abstract
To find the neural substrates of consciousness, researchers compare subjects’ neural activity when they are aware of stimuli against neural activity when they are not aware. Ideally, to guarantee that the neural substrates of consciousness—and nothing but the neural substrates of consciousness—are isolated, the only difference between these two contrast conditions should be conscious awareness. Nevertheless, in practice, it is quite challenging to eliminate confounds and irrelevant differences between conscious and unconscious conditions. In particular, there is an often-neglected confound that is crucial to eliminate from neuroimaging studies: task performance. Unless subjects’ task performance is matched (and hence perceptual signal processing is matched), researchers risk finding the neural correlates of perception, rather than conscious perception. Here, we discuss the theoretical motivations for the performance matching framework and review empirical demonstrations of, and theoretical inferences derived from, obtaining differences in consciousness while controlling for task performance. We summarize signal detection theoretic modeling frameworks that explain how it is that we can derive performance-matched differences in consciousness without the effect being trivially driven by differences in criterion setting, and also provide principles for designing experimental paradigms that yield performance-matched differences in awareness. Finally, we address potential technical and theoretical issues that stem from matching performance across conditions of awareness, and we introduce the notion of “triangulation” for designing comprehensive experimental sets that can better reveal the neural substrates of consciousness.
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Archival date: 2019-11-26
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2019-11-26

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