The Brain Basis of Consciousness

The Graziano lab focuses on a mechanistic theory of consciousness, the Attention Schema Theory (AST). The theory seeks to explain how an information-processing machine such as the brain can insist it has consciousness, describe consciousness in the magicalist ways that people often do, assign a high degree of confidence to those assertions, and attribute a similar property of consciousness to others in a social context. The contention of the theory is that we are such machines, and we lack an easy internal way of understanding why we claim to be conscious. Introspection -- cognitive access to internal information -- is constrained by the fact that the brain's internal models tend to be schematic and efficient rather than strictly accurate. The theory also seeks to explain how that quirky self model, that leads us to think we have conscious experience, might serve adaptive cognitive functions, like any other simplified but useful model that the brain constructs. AST is notable for its ability to connect to and synergize with other cognitive neuroscience theories of consciousness such as the global workspace theory, higher order thought theory, and the illusionist perspective. Click here for the Wikipedia summary of the Attention Schema Theory of consciousness.

In previous years, the Graziano lab made contributions to two other fundamental areas of neuroscience: how neurons in the primate brain encode peripersonal space, and how the motor cortex controls complex movement. Click here for the Wikipedia summary of the lab's previous research. 


Latest Videos 

TedEd: Consciousness









TEDxCornell: Consciousness and the Social Brain


Michael S. A. Graziano
Princeton University
Princeton, NJ 08540