The role of consciousness in cognitive control and decision making
- 1Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale, Cognitive Neuroimaging Unit, Gif-sur-Yvette, France
- 2Commissarìat à l'Energie Atomique, Neurospin Center, Gif-sur-Yvette, France
- 3Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behavior, Radboud University Nijmegen, Nijmegen, Netherlands
- 4Department of Psychology, University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, Netherlands
Here we review studies on the complexity and strength of unconscious information processing. We focus on empirical evidence that relates awareness of information to cognitive control processes (e.g., response inhibition, conflict resolution, and task-switching), the life-time of information maintenance (e.g., working memory) and the possibility to integrate multiple pieces of information across space and time. Overall, the results that we review paint a picture of local and specific effects of unconscious information on various (high-level) brain regions, including areas in the prefrontal cortex. Although this neural activation does not elicit any conscious experience, it is functional and capable of influencing many perceptual, cognitive (control) and decision-related processes, sometimes even for relatively long periods of time. However, recent evidence also points out interesting dissociations between conscious and unconscious information processing when it comes to the duration, flexibility and the strategic use of that information for complex operations and decision-making. Based on the available evidence, we conclude that the role of task-relevance of subliminal information and meta-cognitive factors in unconscious cognition need more attention in future work.
Keywords: consciousness, cognitive control, decision-making, awareness, unconscious
Citation: van Gaa lS, de Lange FP and Cohen MX (2012) The role of consciousness in cognitive control and decision making. Front. Hum. Neurosci. 6:121. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2012.00121
Received: 29 February 2012; Accepted: 17 April 2012;
Published online: 07 May 2012.
Tilmann A. Klein
, Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Germany
Copyright: © 2012 van Gaal, de Lange and Cohen. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial License, which permits non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in other forums, provided the original authors and source are credited.
*Correspondence: Simon van Gaal, Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale U992/NeuroSpin, Cognitive Neuroimaging Unit, Gif-sur-Yvette, CEA - Saclay, France. e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org