Neural correlates of primary and reflective consciousness of spatial orienting

Neuropsychologia. 2008 Jan 15;46(1):348-61. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2007.07.005. Epub 2007 Jul 19.


Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, we asked participants to perform a visual target detection task with peripheral cues. In the first part of the experiment, cues were not predictive of the side of occurrence of the incoming target. In the second part of the experiment, unbeknownst to the participants, cues became 80% predictive, thus inducing an endogenous orienting of spatial attention. Confirming previous results, in the second part response times (RTs) decreased for validly cued trials and increased for invalid trials. Half of the participants were subsequently able to correctly describe the cue-target relationships ('verbalizers'), thus demonstrating reflective consciousness of endogenous orienting. Also non-verbalizer participants showed a similar RT pattern, indicating the occurrence of endogenous orienting without reflective consciousness. Both groups of participants showed fronto-parietal activity typically observed in spatial attention tasks. Verbalizers, in addition, demonstrated stronger activity in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), consistent with the proposed role of this structure in purposeful behaviour and in the monitoring of its consequences. The extensive pattern of connectivity of the ACC is ideally suited to integrate the activity of the large neural assemblies necessary for reflective consciousness to emerge.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Brain / anatomy & histology
  • Brain / blood supply
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Consciousness / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Orientation / physiology*
  • Oxygen / blood
  • Photic Stimulation / methods
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Space Perception / physiology*
  • Verbal Behavior


  • Oxygen