ASSC 21 Symposia


SYMPOSIUM 1  Conscious and unconscious processes in decision-making




For many decades the study of decision-making has been a hot topic in psychology, cognitive neuroscience and philosophy. Specifically, signal-detection theory (SDT) and so-called sequential sampling models have proven to be powerful ways of describing the decision process. Recently, it has been suggested that the sense of ‘willing’ that arises prior to an action or even consciousness can be seen as ‘a decision to engage in a certain way’. Such a perspective implies that similar principles are underlying conscious vs. unconscious decision-making. In contrast, others have argued that unconscious and conscious decision processes emerge from different mechanisms in the brain.

In this symposium we will discuss how current advancements in the study of decision-making contribute to our understanding of consciousness and volition. Critically, decision-making is a complex process that engages multiple levels of description, each of which may involve both conscious and unconscious mechanisms. Therefore, we will shed light on the role and necessity of consciousness in decision-making from various cognitive neuroscientific angles. Here, we will discuss (1) brain mechanisms underlying objective and subjective freedom of choice in decision-making, (2) the influence of random fluctuations in the sensory context and in brain activity may on decision-making, (3) how wakefulness affects distinct processes of cognition of awareness and metacognition, (4) how manipulations of awareness of feedback influences our decision process, and (4) what kind of processes govern decision-making and the monitoring of our decision process.

To bring this debate to the surface “what is the role of conscious and unconscious processes in decision making”, we aim to integrate different aspects of perceptual consciousness, executive decisions, unconscious influences, wakefulness, free will and embodied cognition into a wide view of what makes us make up our minds. 


Chair: Martijn E. Wokke 


TALK 1: Entrainment of finger tapping to unperceived auditory regularities

Aaron Schurger, INSERM Cognitive Neuroimaging Unit, Neurospin Research Center, CEA-Saclay 


TALK 2: Hazy decisions in the mist of consciousness: wakefulness differentially modulates conscious access and metacognition

Tristan Bekinschtein, Consciousness and Cognition Lab, Dep. of Psychology, University of Cambridge; Institute for Cognitive Neurology, Favaloro University 


TALK 3:  The impact of feedback awareness on reward-based learning and choice perseveration: computational and electrophysiological underpinnings 

Simon van Gaal, University of Amsterdam, Dept. of Psychology; Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behavior, Radboud University Nijmegen


TALK 4Influence of sensory noise on endogenous decisions and subjective freedom of choice 

Lucie Charles, Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, UCL 


TALK 5:  Differential information supports first- and second-order decisions

Martijn E. WokkeConsciousness, Cognition and Computation Group, Université Libre de Bruxelles 


 SYMPOSIUM 2  Timing perceptual awareness: empirical challenges




The last ten years have been marked by a growing consensus amongst theories of visual awareness. According to this view, conscious perception specifically depends on the recruitment of late and sustained recurrent processing shared across cortical areas. However, a series of recent empirical findings challenges this view, and paradoxically demonstrates that i) visual awareness can either be specifically associated with early (< 250 ms) or late neural responses (> 250 ms), and that ii) invisible stimuli can trigger long-lasting neural processes. To understand how these conflicting results fit under a common functional architecture, this symposium will review four independent lines of research focusing on temporally-resolved neuroimaging techniques (EEG, MEG and ECoG) and computational modelling. Each speaker will discuss how the differences in experimental protocols (threshold stimulation, backward masking, attentional blink, inattentional blindness and retrospective cueing, in different sensory modalities) may account for the observed differences in the locus and dynamics of conscious and unconscious processes, and suggest a series of precisions or revisions of theories of visual awareness. By modelling the dynamics of conscious and unconscious neural processes, the present symposium will draw the new challenges of visual awareness research.


Chair: Jean-Rémi King 


Talk 1:  Disentangling early sensory processing and conscious access when perception is reported and when it remains private

Claire Sergent, INSERM, ICM Research Center; Institut du Cerveau et de la Moëlle épinière


Talk 2: Discrete and continuous mechanisms of temporal selection in rapid visual streams

Sébastien Marti, Cognitive Neuroimaging Unit, CEA DSV/I2BM, INSERM, Université Paris-Sud, Université Paris-Saclay, NeuroSpin center

Talk 3: Is there a fixed time for the Neural Correlate of Consciousness?  

Lucia Melloni, Department of Neurophysiology, Max Planck Institute for Brain Research; Department of Neurology, School of Medicine, New York University 


Talk 4: Brain mechanisms underlying the brief maintenance of seen and unseen sensory information

Jean-Rémi King, New York University; Frankfurt institute for Advanced Studies  



SYMPOSIUM 3  Creating consciousness on demand: how the imagination creates visual consciousness 




Hallucinations, mental imagery, synaesthesia and many illusions can all create a wakeful conscious experience without a corresponding stimulus or sensory stimulation: an internal conscious experience. Historically research into such dimensions of consciousness has suffered criticism and lacked scientific traction due to the methodological constraints caused by the inherent private nature of such experiences. Accordingly, empirical consciousness research over the past 15 years has tended to focus on the inverse situation: neural stimulation and processing without consciousness awareness (Binocular rivalry, masking, continuous flash suppression).

However, recently objective research methods have been introduced that allow a more direct investigation into the mechanisms and neural substrates of consciousness without a direct external cause. Concurrently, developments in the field of machine learning have introduced powerful new concepts for constructing explicitly quantitative and empirically testable theories about the nature of such conscious experiences and their relationship to externally triggered perception. This allows the formulation of normative theories about the computational role of internally generated representations, and mechanistic theories about the generating process.

Here, four researchers will present new empirical and theoretical accounts of internal visual consciousness, (mental imagery) without a stimulus. First, Joel Pearson will talk about a mechanism that controls the sensory strength of mental imagery and how to measure and manipulate it. Second, Yasuyuki Kamitani will present exciting new results on ongoing efforts to decode mental imagery and dreams from human brain activity. Third, Roger Koenig-Robert will talk about new results decoding the content of visual thoughts before they are made. Finally, Thomas Naselaris will present an overview of recent results on mental imagery in the fMRI literature, and a new theoretical perspective on mental imagery from the vantage point of predictive coding theory.

Collectively, these talks will provide the audience with an up-to-date and multi-perspective overview of current research on consciousness without a stimulus, providing evidence for and insight into this rapidly emerging new dimension of consciousness research. 


Chairs: Joel Pearson and Thomas Nasalaris     


TALK 1:  Mind Control: Measuring and manipulating the strength of the visual imagery 

Joel Pearson, Department of Psychology, The University of New South Wales 


TALK 2: Brain decoding of perception, imagery, and dreaming

Yukiyasu Kamitani, Kyoto University and ATR Computational Neuroscience Laboratories 


TALK 3: Decoding the nonconscious dynamics of thought generation 

 Roger Koenig-Robert, Department of Psychology, The University of New South Wales 


TALK 4: A predictive coding account of visual mental imagery

Thomas Naselaris, Department of Neurosciences, Medical University of South Carolina 



SYMPOSIUM 4  Feelings of space? Somatosensory spatial perception and neurophenomenology of bodily awareness"  




Somatosensation is a topic of resurgent interest within the scientific study of consciousness.  First, the neuroanatomical organization of the somatosensory system into different classes of receptors, afferent fibres, and cortical targets, offers a ready model for investigating concepts of sensory quality and modality. Second, several specific aspects of somatosensory experience offer important challenges for consciousness research. One of these is the puzzling nature of experience of somatosensory space, and this forms the focus of the present symposium. Somatosensory channels have poorer spatial acuity, and lower informational capacity than, say, the visual system.  As a result, experience of somatosensory locations and extents is often impoverished or absent – leading some to propose that somatosensation is not a spatial sense at all. Further, many somatosensory systems (though not all) yield a conscious experience only when the skin contacts an object. This gives sparse sampling of the external world compared to other senses. In this symposium, we debate these and other problems in understanding somatosensory consciousness.  Speakers from philosophy, psychology and neuroscience represent contrasting points of view on the experience of space though somatosensation.  Importantly, our speakers also cover a range of somatosensory modalities, including touch, pain and proprioception. We also have a range of career stages represented. We anticipate useful contrast between views focusing on afferent signals from the body, and views focusing on centrally-generated, multisensory phenomenologies of object perception. We see this symposium as putting somatosensory space back where it belongs on the scientific map of consciousness.


Chairs: Patrick Haggard and Francesca Fardo


Talk 1: Spatial encoding of the thermal-grill illusion of pain

Francesca Fardo, Danish Pain Research Centre, Aarhus University 


Talk 2: The spatial character of distal touch

Matthew Fulkerson, Department of Philosophy, UC San Diego


Talk 3: Skin-space: the receptor array as basis for spatial perception

Patrick Haggard, Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, University College London


Talk 4: Somatosensory fields and Perceptual Objects

Mike Martin, Department of Philosophy, University College London 


SYMPOSIUM 5  Interoceptive Inference: From Bodily Signals to Conscious Experience 




The idea of bodily sensations contributing to cognition and consciousness is not new 1 and influential proposals linking interoception to conscious states have been gathering momentum now since early 2000s (e.g., 2, 3). It is only recently, however, that researchers have started to investigate the idea that the brain may perceive and regulate bodily states to the same inferential (Bayesian) principles that have been applied to exteroceptive modalities like vision and audition. The framework of “interoceptive inference” provides a natural link between subjective states relevant to conscious selfhood and physiological signals from the body. Since its initial proposal 4, this field has seen a surge in conceptual developments [see 5-12 for a sample; also see a special issue in Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B 13]. Nevertheless, there is still a lack of concrete theoretical predictions and empirical tests relevant to conscious perception and selfhood. 


This symposium will address these challenges with four closely linked interdisciplinary talks covering both theoretical and empirical approaches, encompassing computational neuroscience, cognitive neuroscience, clinical application, and philosophy. First, Seth will introduce and update the theoretical framework of interoceptive inference, explaining how it is related to selfhood, emotion, and perception, with a new emphasis on allostatic control. Second, Petzschner will present experiments that provide the first evidence for interoceptive prediction errors with respect to heartbeats, using a combination of EEG, behavior and computational modelling. Third, Pezzulo will present the connections between an "interoceptive schema" and a "body schema”, their relevance for adaptive action, and their neural correlates. Next, Gu will present an application of the interoceptive inference framework to subjective states in clinical populations such as drug craving. Lastly, the audience will have the opportunity to exchange thoughts with the speakers. By end of this symposium, we hope to gain new insights into the relevance of interoceptive inference to consciousness science, and more important, to galvanize the conference’s interest in this rapidly emerging topic. 


Chairs:  Xiaosi Gu  and  Anil K. Seth 

Talk 1: Being a beast machine 

Anil K. Seth, Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science, University of Sussex  


Talk 2: Predictive Coding of Heartbeats 

Frederike Petzschner, Translational Neuromodeling Unit, ETH & University of Zurich 


Talk 3: In search of an "interoceptive schema": an active inference perspective 

Giovanni Pezzulo, Institute of Cognitive Sciences and Technologies National Research Council   


Talk 4: A Bayesian Observer Model of Drug Craving 

Xiaosi Gu, School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences & Computational Psychiatry Unit, The University of Texas at Dallas