Using multivariate decoding to go beyond contrastive analyses in consciousness research

Front Psychol. 2014 Oct 30;5:1250. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01250. eCollection 2014.


Contrasting conditions with and without awareness has been the preferred method for investigating the neural correlates of consciousness (NCC) for decades, yet recently it has been suggested that further insights can be made by moving beyond this method, specifically by meticulously controlling that potential precursors and consequences of the NCC are not mistaken for an NCC. Here, we briefly review the advantages and potential pitfalls of existing paradigms going beyond the contrastive method, and we propose multivariate decoding of neural activity patterns as a supplement to other methods. Specifically, we emphasize the ability of multivariate decoding to detect which patterns of neural activity are consistently predictive of conscious experiences at the single trial level. This is relevant as the "NCC proper" is expected to be consistently predictive whereas processes that are consequences of consciousness may not occur on every trial (making them less predictive) and prerequisites of consciousness may be present on some trials without conscious experience (making them less predictive).

Keywords: MEG; consciousness; contrastive analyses; fMRI; multivariate decoding; multivariate pattern analysis.