ASSC16 Tutorials


ASSC 16 tutorials will be held on the sea front in the most historic hotel in Brighton,  

the Old Ship Hotel 31-38 Kings Rd, Brighton BN1 1NR


                                    ------------------Morning Tutorials ------------------

TUTORIAL 1: " Towards a comprehensive theory of subjectivity and selfhood: Philosophy, cognitive science, neurology, and neuroimaging" Summary
  • Olaf Blanke (Laboratory of Cognitive Neuroscience, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Switzerland)
  • Thomas Metzinger (Johanes Gutenberg University, Mainz, Germany)

Subjectivity is at the heart of current theories of consciousness, in neuroscience as well as in philosophy of mind: What is a conscious self? What are the earliest origins of the first-person perspective, and what exactly makes phenomenal experience a subjective phenomenon? In the past, many different aspects of self-consciousness have been categorized and these aspects have been  continuously refined and expanded, including many different sensory, emotional or cognitive layers. This has led to an excess of definitions, in the absence of a widely accepted model of self-consciousness that is based on empirical neurobiological data.

Recent theories converge on the relevance of bodily self-consciousness, i.e., the non-conceptual representation and processing of body-related information (multisensory and sensorimotor), leading to the activation of a phenomenal self-model (PSM). This tutorial introduces concepts and latest experimental findings from philosophy of mind and cognitive neuroscience on bodily self-cosciousness and, in the first section, proposes conceptual foundations for a minimal notion of phenomenal selfhood (MPS): self-location, first-person perspective, and self-identification. We will then present neurological data concerning the breakdown of bodily self-consciousness and their neuroanatomical mechanisms. Next we will discuss the experimental manipulation of bodily self-consciousness using video and virtual reality technology combined with neuroimaging data (fMRI, EEG). In the third part of the tutorial we will return to philosophy of mind and target the concept of a “first-person perspective” (1PP).

The course is aimed at participants with an interdisciplinary interest, from philosophy to psychology and cognitive science, as well as neurology and cognitive neuroscience.

Tutorial Outline:

Part 1: Philosophy of Mind
Conceptual foundations for a minimal notion of phenomenal selfhood (MPS): self-location, first-person perspective, and self-identification.

Part 2: Cognitive Neurology – Illusory own body perceptions
We will then present neurological data concerning the breakdown of bodily self-consciousness and their neuroanatomical mechanisms.

Part 3: Cognitive Science and Neuroimaging
Experimental manipulation of bodily self-consciousness using video and virtual reality technology combined with neuroimaging (fMRI, EEG).

Part 4: Here we will return to philosophy of mind and target the concept of a “first-person perspective” by integrating the different theoretical concepts and empirical findings.

TUTORIAL 2: “Sensory substitution" Summary
  • Jamie Ward (School of Psychology, Sackler Centre for Consciousness  Science, University of Sussex,  UK)
  • Thomas Wright (School of Psychology, Sackler Centre for Consciousness  Science, University of Sussex,  UK)

Sensory substitution devices convert information relating to one sensory signal into another signal: typically visual information is converted into touch or sound. This has practical consequences (e.g. for the blind) as well as raising deep scientific and philosophical questions (e.g. relating to neural plasticity, and the relationship between visual information and visual conscious experience).

In the first part of the tutorial, different devices will be considered starting from the seminal work of Bach-y-Rita to the present day (e.g. attempts to create a magnetic sense). There will be an opportunity to interact with some of these devices.

In the second part of the tutorial, evidence from psychology and neuroscience will be presented concerning performance-based and brain-based measures of the functioning of these devices. The third part of the tutorial focuses on the phenomenological reports of users of these devices and theoretical attempts to account for them (e.g. sensory-motor theories of visual experience).

TUTORIAL 3:   "A primer on experimental hypnosis research" Summary
  • Devin Terhune (Department of Experimental Psychology, University of Oxford, UK)

The study of hypnosis can provide valuable information regarding the nature of consciousness.

Investigating responses to hypnotic suggestions in highly suggestible individuals can yield numerous insights into agency, cognitive control, and conscious awareness. Hypnosis can also be used in an instrumental manner to systematically induce, disrupt, or otherwise alter a host of processes related to consciousness. In turn, hypnosis can aid us in investigating different phenomena that are otherwise difficult to experimentally manipulate in a laboratory setting. The central aim of this tutorial is to give a broad introduction to experimental hypnosis research.

First, I will first provide a brief history of hypnosis and introduce the instruments and procedures used by hypnosis researchers. I will devote considerable time to the measurement of hypnotic suggestibility and discuss the developmental and genetic determinants of hypnotic suggestibility and assess evidence for its cognitive and personality correlates. Next, I will describe and weigh the evidence for different theories of hypnosis and review research bearing on the cognitive and neural basis of hypnotic responding.

Finally, I will conclude by outlining the use of hypnosis as an experimental technique for studying consciousness and describe how it can be utilized to investigate different research questions.

Tutorial Outline:

The tutorial will be divided into two sections interrupted by a short break. The first part will provide a broad introduction to hypnosis with a focus on the  measurement of hypnotic suggestibility and its correlates and determinants as well as research designs used in the field. The second part of the tutorial will cover recent findings regarding the neurocognitive mechanisms underlying a hypnotic induction, response to hypnotic suggestions and different theories of hypnosis. I will conclude this part by describing the instrumental use of hypnosis for the study of consciousness. I describe these two parts in turn.

Part I
This part of the tutorial will provide an introduction to hypnosis, the measurement of hypnotic suggestibility, its correlates and different experimental research designs used in hypnosis. Following a brief outline, I will begin the course by tracking the origins of hypnosis research in the 18th and 19th century followed by an overview of important developments in the 20th century. Next, I will describe and dispel different myths regarding hypnosis; some examples are: spontaneous posthypnotic amnesia, hypnotic recovery of memories, and complete loss of control during hypnosis. I will introduce a brief lexicon of different words pertaining to hypnosis, mentioning what is meant by hypnosis, an induction, a suggestion, and so on. Then I will devote considerable time to the measurement of hypnotic suggestibility; I will introduce the most commonly used instruments, provide a taxonomy of different types of suggestions, and discuss the distribution of hypnotic suggestibility.

Next, I will turn to the response characteristics of individuals who are highly suggestible with a focus on involuntariness and verisimilitude during hypnotic responses. Following these topics, I will describe the current state of the evidence regarding the developmental and genetic determinants of hypnotic suggestibility. I will then describe research investigating potential cognitive (e.g., suggestibility) and personality (e.g., absorption) correlates of hypnotic  suggestibility. I will conclude this part of the tutorial by describing different research designs used in experimental hypnosis research such as the real-simulator and surreptitious observer designs and illustrate how they can be used.

Part II

This part of the tutorial will focus on different theories of hypnosis, the available evidence regarding its neurocognitive mechanisms, and the use of hypnosis as an experimental technique for studying other phenomena.

I will begin by providing a broad overview of the assumptions of sociocognitive and dissociation theories of hypnosis. I will devote considerable time to the major theories of hypnosis as well as more recent cognitive and neurophysiological models of hypnosis. Next, I will outline the current evidence regarding the neurocognitive mechanisms underlying response to a hypnotic induction and to particular hypnotic suggestions.

The final part of the tutorial will cover the experimental application of hypnosis. First, I will outline the assumptions and guiding principles of instrumental hypnosis research with a focus on the strengths and limitations of using hypnosis as an experimental method. I will conclude the tutorial with a detailed description of the utilization of hypnosis for the study of consciousness. I will outline how hypnosis can be used in this manner and provide examples taken from hypnosis research on agency, awareness, attention and perception.

Finally, I will conclude by considering with the attendees how hypnosis could be used to address different research questions.

TUTORIAL 4: "Behavioural methods to assess awareness" Summary
  • Axel Cleeremans  (Consciousness Cognition & Computation Group, Universite Libre de Bruxelles, Belgium)
  • Morten Overgaard (Cognitive Neuroscience Research Unit (CNRU), Denmark)
  • Bert Timmermans (Neuroimaging Group, University Hospital of Cologne, Germany)
  • Ryan Scott (School of Psychology, Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science, University of Sussex, UK)

The study of consciousness, and in particular the study of the differences between conscious and unconscious information processing presents unique challenges for it requires that one combines subjective (“first-person”) and objective (“third-person”) data. In this tutorial, we will survey recent developments in the measurement of awareness and discuss their theoretical implications. Over the past few years, many new methods to assess the extent to which a person is aware of some state of affairs have been proposed. Interestingly, these novel proposals range from methods that have a strong focus on phenomenology, such as the PAS scale introduced by Overgaard and colleagues, to methods that have a strong metacognitive focus, such as confidence judgements or post-decision wagering. In parallel, Signal Detection Theory has also been the object of intense scrutiny, with strong debate about the relationships between Type I and Type II performance in discrimination tasks, and the introduction of novel indices of awareness such as meta-d'. A further development worth discussing in this light is the increasing use of what one could call sub-personal measures of performance, such as eye movements or EMG measures, as well as the introduction of methods focused on identifying the source of the knowledge involved in decisions.

Many recent studies have used several such measures on every trial, thus raising the possibility of comparing them in within-subjects design and of tracking their respective dynamics over  time or over different experimental conditions. The main goal of the tutorial is to introduce the audience to the large repertoire of such new measures, to discuss best practices in the use of such methods (e.g., what are the best conditions under which d' measures should be collected?), and to reflect upon the theoretical implications of the patterns of associations and dissociations revealed by the combination of such methods. The tutorial will be illustrated with recent experimental data.

A syllabus that includes the slides as well as recent articles relevant to the discussion will be provided to participants. Ample opportunities will be provided to participants for discussion, in particular so as to make it possible to examine together specific problems popping up in participants’ own research.


Tutorial Outline:

The tutorial is structured in three parts, described below:

Part I:

Introduction. [Cleeremans & Overgaard, 50m]: In the first part of the tutorial, we will essentially offer an introduction to the challenge of measuring consciousness. Some of this material will be historical, retracing, for instance, the relevant debates as they took place in the subliminal perception or in the implicit learning literature, and overviewing general but central concepts such as subjective vs. objective methods, the relative sensitivity of different measures of a conscious state, the use of verbal reports, confidence judgments, or betting in assessing the extent to which a subject is aware of a of a particular state of affairs, methods such as signal detection or the process dissociation procedure as they can be deployed both in purely behavioural studies or in imaging experiments. Methodological issues such as the question of bias or the pervasive confound between awareness and performance will be introduced through examples involving different paradigms ranging from perception to memory and learning.

The first part of the tutorial will delineate pending challenges, including the following:

• Can the same methods be deployed in different paradigms (e.g. perception vs. memory paradigms) or should some reporting methods be preferred in certain

• How are different measures best combined? Do different ways of administering a d’ task always yield the same result? Does it matter whether a subjective judgment is produced before or after an objective measure?

• Are there differences between dichotomous and graded measures of some content?

• What are the relationships between measures of sensitivity, awareness, and metacognition? What are the respective dynamics of such measures? What are the patterns of associations and dissociations between them?

At the end of this first part of the tutorial, a short discussion followed by a break will be organized with the goal of collecting specific questions that participants would like to see answered. This will also be supported by interactions with the participants in the weeks that precede the meeting, so that the presenters know which issues will be most relevant to the participants.

Part II:

Sensitivity, awareness, and metacognitive judgments. [80m]: The second part of the tutorial will be dedicated to specific illustrative examples taken from very recent and ongoing research. We envision presentations of about 20m each.

Overgaard will survey subjective methods, asking what constitutes “subjective methods” and how one should in practice make use of them. These questions will be illustrated by a detailed review and analysis of findings using one specific approach to subjective reporting: The Perceptual Awareness Scale (PAS). A number of experiments will be described and discussed with a specific focus on exact methodologies. Furthermore, the implications of the experiments will be discussed actively with the tutorial participants. For instance, some experiments suggest that findings of blindsight and even subliminal perception may at least to some degree rely on confounding factors from inaccurate reporting methods. The talk intends to introduce methods for subjective reporting for a scientific audience without prior experience with their use.

Timmermans will survey subjective measures, specifically asking whether they all subtend the same form of metacognition. According to Sandberg et al., 2010, the best method consists of simply asking participants about the clarity of their visual experience Cleeremans, Overgaard, Timmermans & Scott 3 (as in the Perceptual Awareness Scale, PAS). This method outperforms confidence ratings (in response accuracy), and post-decision wagering, presumably because the latter may depend more on participants' answers, and on the information they consider relevant to that answer (judgment knowledge), and are therefore less exhaustive. PAS, as with confidence ratings as they were originally conceived (pertaining to stimulus clarity instead of response accuracy), has the advantage that it is unrelated to this judgment knowledge. However, in designs where one is specifically interested in whether people know on what knowledge they base their answer (like for instance, letter string classification in an Artificial Grammar Learning task), the question is not about what people believe to have perceived (hence PAS cannot be applied), but about what knowledge they consciously think they possess. Here, the target task becomes relevant, and therefore CR (with respect to response accuracy) and PDW (preferably in a no-loss variant, see Dienes & Seth, 2010) are the subjective measures of choice. The following questions ensue: To what degree can both be compared, to what degree is metacognition in the context of knowing-what-you-saw comparable to metacognition in the context of knowing-what-you-know.

Scott will address the following issues: Judgment vs. Structural knowledge, including coverage of recent methods to assess the basis for participants’ decisions. Confidence vs. Attribution judgments – Based on Scott & Dienes (2008) and on more recent work, the issue of unexpected dissociations between confidence and attribution judgments (such participants reporting zero confidence while simultaneously reporting that they exploited a systematic strategy or rule) will be addressed. Type I vs. Type II decisions, including recently developed novel indices and the relationships between Type I and Type II decisions. Relative familiarity and recalibration. Participants’ recalibrate their confidence thresholds in an intelligent way when given bogus information about their accuracy – showing that they do in fact have conscious access to more information than is typically expressed in their confidence ratings. Relative familiarity can be also used as a potential basis for confidence, which provides a tangible example of how SDT can in principle apply to both first order and metacognitive judgments.

Finally, Cleeremans will report on recent experimental work dedicated to exploring the factors that influence visibility as assessed by means of d’. When investigating unconscious influences in subliminal priming experiments, many have argued that primes are invisible because subsequent d’ (“d prime”) task suggest that people are not able to discriminate between the different primes. However, some problems with this technique have been overlooked. Using different versions of the d’ task, a recent study shows that target presentation, attention on prime stimuli and timing of the response are factors that lead to over- or underestimation of the measured d’. This suggests that the standard d’ task is not a straightforward objective measure of prime visibility and that one has to consider these factors when developing a d’ task in further subliminal perception research.

Part III:

Theoretical implications & general discussion. [50m]: The third part of the tutorial will be dedicated to the theoretical implications of the methods and findings presented in Part II of the tutorial as well as providing an opportunity for ample interaction with the participants.

                                    ------------------Afternoon Tutorials ------------------


TUTORIAL 5: “ The Science of Magic: Turning magic into Science!" Summary
  • Gustav Kuhn (Department of Psychology, Brunel University, UK)
  • Ronald Rensink (Department of Psychology, University of British Columbia, Canada)

Over the centuries, magicians have developed extensive knowledge about how to manipulate our conscious experience; knowledge that has been largely ignored by science. However, in recent years, steps have been taken towards utilizing this knowledge to further our understanding of human cognition and consciousness. In previous ASSC symposium and tutorial, the case was made for a close collaboration between magicians and scientists. In this tutorial we will go further and show how such collaboration can serve as the foundation for a science of magic, and present an explicit framework. Illustrations are given in broad terms about how this science might work in practice, including a description of the kinds of contributions that would be considered valuable.

In the second section, we will examine how a science of magic can provide us with new tools and perspectives from which to investigate the nature of perception, cognition, and human experience. We will explore the things that can we learn from the perceptual and cognitive effects that magicians have developed? How can we use magic as a tool to investigate psychological processes? How can magical effects be used to investigate belief systems? What can the experiential states generated by observing magic effects tell us about human experience? What can we learn from the magician’s expertise in motor control? We will conclude that there are numerous areas in which magic is not merely a sufficient, but a necessary way of investigation. 


Tutorial Outline:

Warm up: Magic Demonstration (10 min)

The science of Magic Framework (30 min)

Possible contributions to the science of magic (30 min)

Discussion (15 min)Break (15 minutes)

Warm up: Magic Demonstration (5min)

Contributions from a Science of Magic (60 min)

Discussion (15 minutes)

TUTORIAL 6: “Meditation and consciousness: Two ways meditation can contribute to consciousness science" Summary
  • Susan Blackmore (University of Plymouth, UK)

There are two ways in which formal meditation may contribute to consciousness studies.

First, there is research exploring how physiology and brain function change, both in the short term during meditation and in the long term after years of practice. Studies of stress levels and relaxation generally do not support popular claims, but dramatically slowed breathing is often found. PET, fMRI and other methods reveal increased overall coherence, and more specific effects are found especially on attentional systems. All these types of study face serious methodological challenges, especially in finding appropriate control groups and conditions, but some of these have been overcome with recent advances. When well conducted these studies may contribute to our understanding of the neural correlates of altered states of consciousness, and especially the correlates of changes in attention.

Second, meditation may (or may not!) be considered useful as a method for training more accurate introspection into consciousness. Traditional Zen koans (paradoxical questions used in meditation) often tackle questions familiar to consciousness researchers such as ‘Who is meditating?’ or ‘When is this?’. Using meditation in this way confronts all the problems of first-person inquiry, especially that of independent corroboration. We shall discuss whether (as I believe) the results may legitimately inspire new theories of consciousness or refute existing theories and assumptions.

This tutorial will include short lectures covering the major empirical findings of meditation research, interspersed with brief meditation sessions that will help us better understand the methods and effects entailed in that research.


Tutorial Outline:

0.00 Introduction. Two ways meditation research can contribute to consciousness studies.

0.10 Meditation exercise 1: Ten minutes calming the mind.

0.25 Physiology of meditation: breathing, arousal, blood O2, CO2 etc. levels, significance for claims of relaxation and stress reduction. Brain function changes, PET, fMRI, problems and implications. Meditation as training attention.

1.00 Meditation exercise 2: Ten minutes watching the breath, with timing exercise

1.15 Discussion

1.30 break (optional – practicing mindfulness during the break)

1.50 Meditation as disciplined introspection. A possible contribution of first-person practice?

2.15 Meditation exercise 3: Brief koan practice and discussion

2.30 Implications for current theories of consciousness

2.50 Final discussion

TUTORIAL 7: Neurosurgery and its role in the study of consciousness" Summary
  • James Laban (Department of Neurosurgery, St. George’s Hospital, London)
  • Harutomo Hasegawa (Department of Neurosurgery, King’s College Hospital, London)
  • Keyoumars Ashkan (Department of Neurosurgery, King’s College Hospital, London)

Clinical neurosurgery has historically played an important role in the development of neuroscience and the science of consciousness. This tutorial is an introduction to the scope of contemporary neurosurgical practice, modern neurosurgical techniques and their relevance to consciousness research in the 21st century.

Tutorial Outline:

1. Introduction
2. Historical aspects
3. Overview of neurosurgical conditions related to the study of consciousness
   a. Head injury
   b. Brain tumours
   c. Stroke
   d. Functional
   e. Epilepsy
4. Surgical techniques
   a. Assessment of impaired states of consciousness
   b. Awake craniotomy
   c. Functional – Deep Brain Stimulation
   d. Epilepsy surgery
5. Open discussion
6. Summary

TUTORIAL 8: “The phenomenology, neurobiology, and neurocognitive basis of depersonalization " Summary
  • Heather  Berlin (Department of Psychiatry, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York, USA)
  • Nick Medford (Brighton and Sussex Medical School, Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science, UK)

We will explore the phenomenology, neurobiology, and neurocognitive basis of depersonalization. According to psychoanalytic theory, dissociation is a defence mechanism that keeps unwanted, anxiety-provoking thoughts and impulses from entering consciousness. Dissociation is a psychological state where certain thoughts, emotions, sensations, or memories are separated from the rest of the psyche. The DSM-IV-TR defines dissociation as “a disruption in the usually integrated functions of consciousness, memory, identity or perception”, and specifies five dissociative disorders, one of which is depersonalization disorder (DPD). DPD is characterized by persistent or recurring feelings of detachment or disconnection from one’s own mental processes, emotions, and/or body resulting from a distorted self-perception. Frequently, depersonalization is accompanied by derealization, a sense that one’s external surroundings are unfamiliar or that the world is ‘unreal’. However, people experiencing depersonalization and derealization retain full reality testing surrounding their perceptually altered experiences, i.e. they are not delusional.

Across psychiatric disorders, depersonalization symptoms are common, yet how these disturbances of self-experience interact with other aspects of mental state, such as post-traumatic, affective, or psychotic symptoms, is little studied. We will discuss studies from psychology, psychiatry, and cognitive neuroscience that are beginning to elucidate the neural basis of depersonalization. While primary DPD will be our main focus, we will also discuss the relevance of recent research findings in DPD with reference to literature on both healthy and pathological mental states, in particular the potential importance of depersonalization symptoms in the genesis of psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia.

Tutorial Outline:

Heather Berlin:
Title: Neurocognition in Depersonalization Disorder
(60 min + 10 min discussion)

Nick Medford:
Title: Neural Substrates of the Unreal Self: Studies in Depersonalization Disorder
(60 min + 10 min discussion)

General Discussion, facilitated by presenters (40 minutes)