Cleeremans, A. (in press). Connecting conscious and unconscious processing. Cognitive Science.
Consciousness remains a mystery — “a phenomenon that people don’t know how to think about —yet” (Dennett, 1991, p. 21). Here, I consider how the connectionist perspective on information processing may help us progress towards the goal of understanding the computational principles through which conscious and unconscious processing differ. I begin by delineating the conceptual challenges associated with classical approaches to cognition insofar as understanding unconscious information processing is concerned, and to highlight several contrasting computational principles that are constitutive of the connectionist approach. This leads me to suggest that conscious and unconscious processing are fundamentally connected, that is, rooted in the very same computational principles. I further develop a perspective according to which the brain continuously and unconsciously learns to redescribe its own activity itself based on on constant interaction with itself, with the world, and with other minds. The outcome of such interactions is the emergence of internal models that are metacognitive in nature and that function so as it make it possible for an agent to develop a (limited, implicit, practical) understanding of itself. In this light, plasticity and learning are constitutive of what makes us conscious, for it is in virtue of our own experiences with ourselves and with other people that our mental life acquires its subjective character. The connectionist framework continues to be uniquely positioned in the Cognitive Sciences to address the challenge of identifying what one could call the “computational correlates of consciousness” (Mathis & Mozer, 1996) because it makes it possible to focus on the mechanisms through which information processing takes place.
Doyen, S., Klein, O., Simons, D.J., & Cleeremans, A. (in press). On the other side of the mirror: Priming in cognitive and social psychology. Social Cognition.
Over the past several years, two largely separate traditions have collided, leading to controversy over claims about priming. We describe and contrast the main accounts of priming effects in cognitive and social psychology, focusing especially on the role of awareness. In so doing, we consider one of the core points of contention, claims about the effects of subliminal priming. Whereas cognitive psychologists often are interested in exploring how priming operates with and without awareness, social psychologists more commonly assume subliminality in order to bolster claims about the automaticity of priming. We discuss the criteria necessary to claim that a stimulus was processed entirely without awareness, noting the challenges in meeting those criteria. Finally, we identify three sources of conflict between the fields: awareness, replicability, and the nature of the underlying processes. We close by proposing resolutions for each of them.
￼Windey, B., Vermeiren, A., Atas, A., & Cleeremans, A. (2014). The graded and dichotomous nature of visual awareness. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, 369: 20130282
Is our visual experience of the world graded or dichotomous? Opposite pre- theoretical intuitions apply in different cases. For instance, when looking at a scene, one has a distinct sense that our experience has a graded character: one cannot say that there is no experience of contents that fall outside the focus of attention, but one cannot say that there is full awareness of such contents either. By contrast, when performing a visual detection task, our sense of having perceived the stimulus or not exhibits a more dichoto- mous character. Such issues have recently been the object of intense debate because different theoretical frameworks make different predictions about the graded versus dichotomous character of consciousness. Here, we review both relevant empirical findings as well as the associated theories (i.e. local recurrent processing versus global neural workspace theory). Next, we attempt to reconcile such contradictory theories by suggesting that level of processing is an often-ignored but highly relevant dimension through which we can cast a novel look at existing empirical findings. Thus, using a range of different stimuli, tasks and subjective scales, we show that proces- sing low-level, non-semantic content results in graded visual experience, whereas processing high-level semantic content is experienced in a more dichotomous manner. We close by comparing our perspective with existing proposals, focusing in particular on the partial awareness hypothesis.
Stenner, M.-P., Bauer, M., Sidarus, N., Heinze, H.-J., Haggard, P., & Dolan, R.J. 2014 Subliminal action priming modulates the perceived intensity of sensory action consequences. Cognition, 30(2), 227–235.
The sense of control over the consequences of one’s actions depends on predictions about these consequences. According to an influential computational model, consistency between predicted and observed action consequences attenuates perceived stimulus intensity, which might provide a marker of agentic control. An important assumption of this model is that these predictions are generated within the motor system. However, previous studies of sensory attenuation have typically confounded motor-specific perceptual modulation with perceptual effects of stimulus predictability that are not specific to motor action. As a result, these studies cannot unambiguously attribute sensory attenuation to a motor locus. We present a psychophysical experiment on auditory attenuation that avoids this pitfall. Subliminal masked priming of motor actions with compatible prime– target pairs has previously been shown to modulate both reaction times and the explicit feeling of control over action consequences. Here, we demonstrate reduced perceived loudness of tones caused by compatibly primed actions. Importantly, this modulation results from a manipulation of motor processing and is not confounded by stimulus predictability. We discuss our results with respect to theoretical models of the mechanisms underlying sensory attenuation and subliminal motor priming.
Sidarus, N., Chambon, V. & Haggard, P. 2013 Priming of actions increases sense of control over unexpected outcomes. Consciousness and Cognition, 22, 1403–1411.
Sense of agency (SoA) refers to the feeling that we are in control of our own actions and, through them, events in the outside world. SoA depends partly on retrospectively matching outcomes to expectations, and partly on prospective processes occurring prior to action, notably action selection.
To assess the relative contribution of these processes, we factorially varied subliminal priming of action selection and expectation of action outcomes. Both factors affected SoA, and there was also a significant interaction. Compatible action primes increased SoA more strongly for unexpected than expected outcomes. Outcome expectation had strong effects on SoA following incompatible action priming, but only weak effects following compatible action priming. Prospective and retrospective SoA may have distinct and complementary functions.