Conscious, preconscious, and subliminal processing: a testable taxonomy

Trends Cogn Sci. 2006 May;10(5):204-11. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2006.03.007. Epub 2006 Apr 17.


Of the many brain events evoked by a visual stimulus, which are specifically associated with conscious perception, and which merely reflect non-conscious processing? Several recent neuroimaging studies have contrasted conscious and non-conscious visual processing, but their results appear inconsistent. Some support a correlation of conscious perception with early occipital events, others with late parieto-frontal activity. Here we attempt to make sense of these dissenting results. On the basis of the global neuronal workspace hypothesis, we propose a taxonomy that distinguishes between vigilance and access to conscious report, as well as between subliminal, preconscious and conscious processing. We suggest that these distinctions map onto different neural mechanisms, and that conscious perception is systematically associated with surges of parieto-frontal activity causing top-down amplification.

MeSH terms

  • Brain / anatomy & histology
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Consciousness*
  • Evoked Potentials / physiology
  • Frontal Lobe / physiology
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Parietal Lobe / physiology
  • Space Perception / physiology
  • Sublimation, Psychological*