How does our brain generate subjective conscious experience?

Our experience of the world is deeply personal and subjective: Our brains process the incoming noisy sensory information by relying heavily on past experiences to make sense of it. What is more, only a fraction of this processed information ever reaches our conscious awareness. How, then, does our brain construct this conscious experience?

According to leading theories, conscious perception involves actively holding onto information using specific brain activities such as synchronized communication between the thalamus (a key relay station in the brain) and the cortex (the outer layer of the brain), feedback loops within the cortex itself, or widespread activation of certain brain networks like those connecting the parietal and prefrontal areas. In contrast, unconscious perception tends to be fleeting, with stimuli that we’re not consciously aware of having minimal impact on our behavior or brain responses beyond a few hundred milliseconds.

For instance, consider a situation where you’re asked to decide whether a single-digit number is odd or even. You might respond more quickly if you were briefly shown another number of the same type just before, even if you weren’t consciously aware of seeing it. This phenomenon, known as “priming,” works within a short timeframe of about 1 second.

However, recent studies, including my own research, challenge this straightforward view. In experiments where adult volunteers were asked to remember the location of a square on a computer screen long after it disappeared, they surprisingly showed an ability to guess its location accurately, even when they didn’t consciously see the square. These findings suggest that our understanding of how the brain maintains information for conscious perception may need reevaluation.

My current research focuses on delving into these complexities to refine our understanding of how the brain processes information for conscious perception.

If you are curious to learn more, check out some of my associated publications:

Darinka Trübutschek
Darinka Trübutschek
MSCA Research Fellow

I am a cognitive neuroscientist, trying to understand how our brain generates and stores subjective experience. Beyond that, I am also a newly minted mother *2.