Distilling the neural correlates of consciousness

Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2012 Feb;36(2):737-46. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2011.12.003. Epub 2011 Dec 17.


Solving the problem of consciousness remains one of the biggest challenges in modern science. One key step towards understanding consciousness is to empirically narrow down neural processes associated with the subjective experience of a particular content. To unravel these neural correlates of consciousness (NCC) a common scientific strategy is to compare perceptual conditions in which consciousness of a particular content is present with those in which it is absent, and to determine differences in measures of brain activity (the so called "contrastive analysis"). However, this comparison appears not to reveal exclusively the NCC, as the NCC proper can be confounded with prerequisites for and consequences of conscious processing of the particular content. This implies that previous results cannot be unequivocally interpreted as reflecting the neural correlates of conscious experience. Here we review evidence supporting this conjecture and suggest experimental strategies to untangle the NCC from the prerequisites and consequences of conscious experience in order to further develop the otherwise valid and valuable contrastive methodology.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Consciousness / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Perception / physiology