The relationship between attention and consciousness: an expanded taxonomy and implications for 'no-report' paradigms

Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2018 Sep 19;373(1755):20170348. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2017.0348.


Tensions between global neuronal workspace theory and recurrent processing theory have sparked much debate in the field of consciousness research. Here, we focus on one of the key distinctions between these theories: the proposed relationship between attention and consciousness. By reviewing recent empirical evidence, we argue that both theories contain key insights and that certain aspects of each theory can be reconciled into a novel framework that may help guide future research. Alternative theories are also considered, including attended intermediate-level representations theory, integrated information theory and higher order thought theory. With the aim of offering a fresh and nuanced perspective to current theoretical debates, an updated taxonomy of conscious and non-conscious states is proposed. This framework maps a wider spectrum of conscious states by incorporating contemporary views from cognitive neuroscience regarding the variety of attentional mechanisms that are known to interact with sensory processing. Whether certain types of attention are necessary for phenomenal and access consciousness is considered and incorporated into this extended taxonomy. To navigate this expanded space, we review recent 'no-report' paradigms and address several methodological misunderstandings in order to pave a clear path forward for identifying the neural basis of perceptual awareness.This article is part of the theme issue 'Perceptual consciousness and cognitive access'.

Keywords: access consciousness; global neuronal workspace theory; no-report paradigms; perceptual awareness; phenomenal consciousness; recurrent processing theory.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Attention / physiology*
  • Awareness / physiology*
  • Cognition
  • Consciousness / physiology*
  • Humans