Research

Project part 1: The definition of consciousness

The first project part will consist of an analysis of the definitional aspects of “mind” and “neural correlates”. While this is important in and of itself, it is a crucial step to succeed in the following project parts.

Project part 2: The definition of consciousness in neuropsychological disorders

The second part of the project sets out to examine the basis of our current knowledge with regards to the phenomenal aspect of cognitive processes in patients with brain injury. The project part will also carve out methodological frameworks and constraints to conduct a more clear and concise methodology to study different aspects of mental states in healthy subjects and specific patient populations. Furthermore, the analysis will set out to find out how and to which degree the conscious experience of different patient groups will affect the chosen rehabilitation strategy.

Project part 3: PAS and tDCS

The third project part will investigate how changes in neural networks (made using transcranial Direct Current Stimulation, tDCS) affect subjective experience (measured using the Perceptual Awareness Scale, PAS) and perceptual discrimination.

Project part 4: Eye-tracking non-communicative patients

In this project part, we intend to monitor eye movements while displaying visual figures to Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) patients still able to communicate verbally. This will give some indication whether the gaze pattern in these patients is identical to that of healthy subjects, compared to PAS score. With this knowledge, we will follow the patients as they inevitably will become non-communicating. Thus, we have an individually fitted method to interact with the patients of the study.

Project part 5: tDCS and cognitive rehabilitation

This project part examines the impact of transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS) in cognitive rehabilitation of patients with, for instance, attentional problems following brain injury.

Project part 6: Perspective taking in visuospatial neglect

Visuospatial neglect patients typically fail to notice objects in the left side of their visual field. In this project part, we examine whether taking the perspective of another person located opposite themselves helps them notice things in their neglected visual field as these objects are in the right visual field of the person whose perspective they are taking.

Project part 7: Unconscious emotions?

It is an open question whether emotions exist in a conscious and unconscious form, or whether all emotions are necessarily conscious. In this project, we present participants with emotional and neutral pictures of varied duration, and the participant will be asked continuously to report emotional content while measuring, galvanic skin response (GSR) and heart rate (HR). We will examine whether physiological emotional responses are observed when participants report experiencing no emotion.

Project part 8: Cognition and emotion in prefrontal injury

Patients with orbitofrontal injuries typically lack the ability to recognize emotions and have very low abilities to function in social situations. In clinical neuropsychology, it has been reported that these patients are typically unable to react spontaneously to an emotional situation, but that they, if given the possibility to “think aloud”, typically end up identifying the situation much like other people would. In this project part, we test this experimentally for the first time.

Project part 9: Emotion in the vegetative state

In this project part, we will present vegetative patients with functioning visual perception to a variety of visual stimuli – neutral, emotional, and stimuli chosen to be meaningful for each individual patient (pictures of family members etc) while recording eye movements, GSR, and HR. Based on knowledge from the previously planned experiments, we will know about eye movements related to conscious experience. Accordingly, it is possible to assume that vegetative patients are in fact conscious, were eye movement patterns similar to those in conscious normal subjects to be found. Furthermore, emotional reactions related to the stimuli may be found using the sympathetic nervous system measures.

Project part 10: Predicting perceptual consciousness

In this project part, we wish to tackle the fundamental issue what constitutes the difference between conscious and unconscious states. The goal of the project is to predict participants’ conscious experience from their brain activity as measured by magnetoencephalography (MEG).