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Awareness of intentional processes and its relationship to theories of consciousness

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Stimuli present ‘in the world’, external to the brain, can elicit a direct neural response, and eventually access consciousness. Behavioral and neurophysiological experiments have used these external stimuli to build, test and refine theories of how conscious perception might occur. ...

Stimuli present ‘in the world’, external to the brain, can elicit a direct neural response, and eventually access consciousness. Behavioral and neurophysiological experiments have used these external stimuli to build, test and refine theories of how conscious perception might occur.

But perceptual processes are not the only ones capable of accessing consciousness. We can become aware of internally generated intentions, urges and emotional states. Importantly, these signals are ‘internally generated’ in the sense that they do not depend directly on afferent signals.

Despite the strong parallelisms between the conscious perception of externally- and internally-generated information, theories of consciousness have rarely incorporated data from awareness of intentions. This is perhaps due to the difficulties in reliably manipulating internally generated processes. However, and for example, a growing body of data on topics such as awareness of agency, and metacognitive monitoring of intentions shows that research on the awareness of intentions is indeed possible.

Importantly, each paradigm and method has specific strengths, and exploring multiple kinds of data can often lead to a rich span of competing theories to explain them. For example, subliminal priming experiments have been used to develop the Global Workspace theory, whilst tasks including subjective reports of awareness have informed Higher Order theories, and brain functional connectivity data have offered possible implementations for the Information Integration theory.

Including the often-neglected conscious perception of internally generated processes may enrich, or strengthen, some of the existing theories of consciousness. We therefore welcome both theoretical and empirical contributions, in the hope to explore the feasibility of incorporating the awareness of internal processes into theories of consciousness. We encourage submissions reporting novel experimental paradigms that may help advance in this direction. Specifically, we ask whether this research program can offer any novel insights, or raise any new challenges, for theories of consciousness.


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