Attention and consciousness: two distinct brain processes

Trends Cogn Sci. 2007 Jan;11(1):16-22. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2006.10.012. Epub 2006 Nov 28.


The close relationship between attention and consciousness has led many scholars to conflate these processes. This article summarizes psychophysical evidence, arguing that top-down attention and consciousness are distinct phenomena that need not occur together and that can be manipulated using distinct paradigms. Subjects can become conscious of an isolated object or the gist of a scene despite the near absence of top-down attention; conversely, subjects can attend to perceptually invisible objects. Furthermore, top-down attention and consciousness can have opposing effects. Such dissociations are easier to understand when the different functions of these two processes are considered. Untangling their tight relationship is necessary for the scientific elucidation of consciousness and its material substrate.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Attention*
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Consciousness*
  • Humans
  • Models, Psychological
  • Perception / physiology
  • Psychophysics / methods