2015 - The twelfth William James Prize for Contributions to the Study of Consciousness was awarded to Alexandra Vlassova in Paris, France, on the occasion of the 19th Annual Meeting of the Association of the Scientific Study of Consciousness. Alexandra's paper "Unconscious information changes decision accuracy but not confidence" (Vlassova, A., Donkin, C., & Pearson, J. (2014). Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111(45), 16214-16218) was selected as the winning nomination. The paper uses a novel behavioural task and computational modeling to investigate the controversial idea that unconscious information can influence our decisions. The paper demonstrates that unconscious information can be accumulated in a similar manner but less effectively than conscious information, and that this information is used to boost or diminish decision accuracy. These changes in accuracy were not accompanied by corresponding increases in confidence, suggesting that we have poor metacognition for unconscious decisional evidence. Alexandra Vlassova is currently finalising her Ph.D. in cognitive neuroscience at the University of New South Wales (Australia) under the supervision of Joel Pearson, and has begun a post-doctoral position with Sid Kouider at École Normale Supérieure in Paris.
2014 - The eleventh William James Prize for Contributions to the Study of Consciousness was awarded to Zhicheng Lin in Brisbane, Australia, on the occasion of the 18th Annual Meeting of the Association of the Scientific Study of Consciousness. Zhicheng's paper "Priming of awareness or how not to measure visual awareness" (Journal of Vision 2014, 14(1):27, 1-17) was selected as the winning nomination. The paper describes a phenomenon called priming of awareness: visual awareness for low-visibility trials is elevated when these trials are mixed with high-visibility trials relative to when presented alone. This phenomenon is due to two main mechanisms that arise from the high-visibility trials: shape-specific template enhancement and spared attentional resources. These results have both theoretical and practical implications: at the conceptual level, they reveal an important but previously overlooked factor in regulating conscious awareness—past experience; at the methodological level, they stipulate that the trial sequence should be equivalent for the main task and the awareness test. Zhicheng is currently a Research Associate at the University of Washington, Seattle.
2013 - The tenth William James Prize for Contributions to the Study of Consciousness was awarded to Aaron Schurger in San Diego, California, on the occasion of the 17th Annual Meeting of the Association of the Scientific Study of Consciousness. Aaron’s paper "An accumulator model for spontaneous neural activity prior to self-initiated movement" (Schurger, A., J. Sitt, et al. (2012) PNAS 109(42): E2904-E2913) was selected as the winning nomination. The paper offers a novel account of the cortical "readiness potential" in terms of ongoing spontaneous fluctuations in neural activity, a neural accumulator, and a threshold. Schurger's account departs dramatically from the prevailing assumptions about the nature of the readiness potential and its relation to the conscious experience of "intending" to move. This account represents a paradigm shift from the interpretation that has prevailed for more than 40 years. Aaron Schurger received his Ph.D. in psychology and neuroscience in 2009 from Princeton University, where he worked under Jonathan D Cohen and Anne Treisman. After that he worked as a Marie Curie postdoctoral fellow in the research group of Stanislas Dehaene at the NeuroSpin research center in Saclay, France. He is currently a senior researcher at the EPFL in Lausanne, Switzerland, working at the intersection of movement initiation, conscious perception, and brain-computer interfaces together with Olaf Blanke and José del R Millan. Schurger accepts the award in memory of the late Alan Cowey, who passed away in December, 2012.
2012 - The ninth William James Prize for Contributions to the Study of Consciousness was awarded to Stephen Fleming in Brighton, UK, on the occasion of the 16th Annual Meeting of the Association of the Scientific Study of Consciousness. Stephen’s paper “Relating Introspective Accuracy to Individual Differences in Brain Structure” (Science, 329(5998): 1541-43) was selected as the winning nomination. The paper is one of the first investigations into the neural basis of introspective accuracy – the ability to reflect on one’s own performance. A key advance was the use of a psychometric method that equalized perceptual task performance across individuals, enabling isolation of variability in subjective confidence. The study found that grey matter volume in the anterior prefrontal cortex, plus white-matter integrity in the anterior corpus callosum, correlated with individual differences in introspective accuracy. These findings suggest that there may be a specific brain basis for introspection, distinct from that supporting primary perception. Stephen Fleming received his Ph.D. in cognitive neuroscience in 2011 from University College London. He is presently a Sir Henry Wellcome postdoctoral fellow at New York University and University of Oxford.
2011 - The eighth William James Prize for Contributions to the Study of Consciousness was awarded to Ian Phillips in Kyoto, Japan, on the occasion of the 15th Annual Meeting of the Association for the Scientific study of Consciousness. Ian is the first philosopher to receive the prize. Ian’s paper ‘Perception and Iconic Memory: What Sperling Doesn’t Show’ (Mind & Language, 26(4), 2011) was selected as the winning nomination. The paper challenges the orthodox interpretation of Sperling’s classic partial report paradigm, and subsequent work on iconic memory. According to the orthodox interpretation, partial report superiority (and so iconic memory) reveals that we see much more than we can subsequently recall and report. Drawing on evidence for postdictive perception, the paper offers a novel interpretation of partial report superiority which fails to support any such claim. According to this interpretation subject experience in a partial report trial is not independent of the post-cue despite the cue’s presentation after the initial display presentation has terminated. The paper also considers recent arguments for phenomenal overflow based on change-detection paradigms. It argues that, though not amenable to a postdictive interpretation, such paradigms are fundamentally different from Sperling’s and, for rather different reasons, also fail to establish that phenomenology overflows access. Ian Phillips received his Ph.D. in philosophy in 2009 from University College London. He is presently a Lecturer at University College London and a Fellow by Examination at All Souls College, Oxford.
2010 - The seventh William James Prize for Contributions to the Study of Consciousness was awarded to Yann Cojan in Toronto, Canada, on the occasion of the 14th Annual Meeting of the Association for the Scientific study of Consciousness. Cojan's paper "The brain under self-control: modulation of inhibitory and monitoring cortical networks during hypnotic paralysis" (Neuron 62, 862-875, June 25, 2009) was selected as the wining nomination. The paper demonstrates that paralysis induced by hypnosis in a go/nogo task does not involve an active inhibition of motor outputs; but instead modifies The functional connectivity of motor cortex and activity in brain areas responsible for executive control and self-monitoring. Furthermore, motor regions were found to exhibit a selective decrease in functional connectivity with premotor regions, but selective increases with the precuneus. This pattern led to the proposal that motor function could be dominated by internal representations elicited by hypnotic suggestion. Yann Cojan received his Ph.D. in neurosciences in 2006 from the Pierre et Marie Curie University (Paris VI). He is presently a post-doc with Prof Patrik Vuilleumier in the Laboratory for Neurology & Imaging of Cognition in the Neurosciences Center at the University of Geneva.
2009 - The sixth William James Prize for Contributions to the Study of Consciousness was awarded to Joel Pearson in Berlin, Germany, on the occasion of the 13th Annual Meeting of the Association for the Scientific tudy of Consciousness. Joel’s paper "The functional impact of mental imagery on conscious perception" (Pearson, J., Clifford, C.W.G., Tong, F. 2008, Current Biology 18, 982-986) was selected as the wining nomination. The paper demonstrates that imagining a specific visual stimulus can strongly bias which of two subsequent competing stimuli reach awareness during binocular rivalry. Further, these effects of mental imagery are manifest all the way down to low-level perceptual representations, so suggesting that mere imagination can literally shape perceptual processing. Joel Pearson received his Ph.D. in visual neuroscience in 2006 from the University of Sydney (Australia) under the supervision of Pr. Colin Clifford. After a post-doctoral term at Vanderbilt University, where he worked with Randolph Blake and Frank Tong, he is now a lecturer in the department of psychology at the University of New South Wales.
2008 - The fifth William James Prize for Contributions to the Study of Consciousness was awarded to Naotsugu (Nao) Tsuchiya in Taipei, Taiwan at the 12th Annual Meeting of ASSC. Nao's publication, "Continuous flash suppression reduces negative afterimages" (Nature Neuroscience, 2005, 8(8), 1096-1101) was selected as the winning nomination. The paper described a novel psychophysical technique, called Continuous Flash Suppression (CFS). In CFS, a highly salient image presented to one eye is rendered completely invisible via inter-ocular suppression, caused by continuous flashes of random, edge-rich patterns to the other eye. CFS is a powerful suppression technique, with which an image can be reliably suppressed for a sustained duration. Using CFS, the awarded paper demonstrated that negative afterimages, which had been long believed to originate solely from adaptation in the retina, had a cortical component. Recently, CFS has been used widely in psychophysical and fMRI investigation of conscious and non-conscious visual processing. Nao Tsuchiya received a Ph.D in Computation and Neural Systems (CNS) (advisor: Dr. Christof Koch) in 2005 at Caltech, California. He is presently a Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) fellow at Caltech.
2007 - The fourth William James Prize for Contributions to the Study of Consciousness was awarded to Sid Kouider in Las Vegas Nevada at the 11th Annual Meeting of ASSC. Sid's publication, "Cerebral bases of subliminal and supraliminal priming during reading" (Cerebral Cortex, 2007, 17, 2019-2029) was selected as the winning nomination from the 18 nominations received for consideration. The research described in the publication examined brain activity evoked by visible and invisible stimuli, both of which were irrelevant to the task so as to minimize the involvement of attentional or strategic processes. Under these conditions, prime visibility was associated with greater activity in the bilateral posterior occipito-temporal cortices, without extension into frontal and parietal cortices. These findings suggest that there is an intermediate level of conscious processing between subliminal perception and conscious access. Sid Kouider completed his studies for a Ph.D in Cognitive Sciences in 2002 at the Laboratoire de Sciences Cognitives et Psycholinguistique (ENS/CNRS/EHESS), Paris. He is presently a CNRS Associate Researcher at the Laboratoire de Sciences Cognitives et Psycholinguistique, Ecole Normale Superieure, Paris.
2006 - The third William James Prize for Contributions to the Study of Consciousness was awarded in Oxford England at the 10th Annual Meeting of ASSC. Publications by 16 young scholars/researchers were nominated for consideration by the Prize Committee. From these nominations, the Committee selected "Traveling waves of activity in early visual cortex during binocular rivalry" by Sang-Hun Lee and colleagues (Nature Neuroscience, 2005, 8, 22-23) as the winning nomination. The research described in this publication combined psychophysics and FMRI to show that there is a tight linkage in humans between the dynamics of perceptual traveling waves experienced during binocular rivalry and the neural events in primary visual cortex (i.e., V1). Sang-Hun Lee received his Ph.D in Visual Neuroscience from Vanderbilt University in 2001. He is presently an Assistant Professor of Psychology and the Interdisciplinary Program in Brain Science at the Seoul National University.
2005 - The second William James Prize for Contributions to the Study of Consciousness was awarded at the 9th Annual Meeting of ASSC in Pasadena California. Seventeen articles were nominated for consideration by the Prize Committee. From these nominations, the Committee selected "Attention to Intention" by Hakwan Lau and colleagues (Science, 2004, 303, 1208-1210) as the winning nomination. The article describes research showing that attending to the intention to initiate a movement (as contrasted with attending to the movement itself) leads to an enhancement of activity in the pre-supplementary motor area. This finding suggests that activity in the pre-SMA reflects the representation of intention and that attention to intention may be one way in which effective conscious control of action is possible. Hakwan (a.k.a. Chris) Lau received his D.Phil in Experimental Psychology from the University of Oxford in 2004, and he is presently a Post-doctoral Research Fellow at the Wellcome Department of Imaging Neuroscience, University College London.
2004 - The William James Prize for Contributions to the Study of Consciousness was awarded for the first time at the 8th Annual Meeting of ASSC in Antwerp Belgium. Twenty-six articles by young investigators were nominated for consideration. From these nominations, the Prize Committee selected "Brain Function in the Vegetative State" by Steven Laureys and colleagues (Acta Neurologica Belgica, 2002, 102, 177-185) as the winning nomination. This article deals with the alteration or loss of consciousness caused by metabolic, toxic, traumatic, or anoxic pathology. Although the resultant state is often referred to as 'coma', a variety of different states can be distinguished when behavioural assessment is combined with measures of brain activity. Steve Laureys is a research associate at the Belgian National Funds for Scientific Research (FNRS). He is presently working at the University of Liege where he uses neuroimaging methods to study the activation patterns that can be elicited in patients despite massive overall reductions in cerebral metabolism.