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Using visual illusions to understand the role of prefrontal cortex in conscious experience

Du 08/11/2021 au 08/11/2021

Veith WEILNHAMMER, Charité-Berlin, Germany, has given a talk on Zoom on November 8th.


Short abstract:

A much-debated question in the search for the neural underpinnings of consciousness is whether prefrontal cortex actively shapes conscious experience or, alternatively, serves only complementary functions such as evaluating and acting on the contents of perception.

In the first part of the talk, I will present data from three experiments that investigated the role of prefrontal cortex in perceptual bistability. Human participants reported periodic changes in conscious experience that were induced by conflicting sensory information. Two functional magnetic resonance imaging experiments showed that prefrontal brain activity in inferior frontal cortex signals the conflict between conscious experience and available sensory information. In a third experiment, inhibitory transcranial magnetic stimulation revealed that a disruption of neural activity in inferior frontal cortex leads to a decrease of conflict-driven changes in conscious experience. These results suggest that inferior frontal cortex plays a critical role in both the detection and the resolution of perceptual conflicts, pointing to a causal influence of prefrontal brain activity on the dynamic unfolding of conscious experience.

In the second part of the talk, I will present data from a case-control study that investigated how patients suffering from paranoid schizophrenia differ from healthy controls in the processing of perceptual conflict. We found patients to be more sensitive to perceptual conflicts, causing them to perceive partially ambiguous structure-from-motion stimulus more accurately than healthy controls. Interestingly, the patients' sensitivity to perceptual conflict correlated positively with the severity of hallucinations.

I will conclude by discussing how model-based imaging and non-invasive brain stimulation of prefrontal cortex may advance the search for a therapeutic modulation of altered states of consciousness.

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