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Sergent Consciousness Lab

We are a Cognitive Neurosciences Lab
investigating the pychological and neural foundations of
consciousness using experimental psychology, neuroimaging
(EEG - iEEG - MEG - fMRI),
and computational modelling

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Just out in JEP-HPP !

With @AxelGarnierAllain and our collaborator Daniel Pressnitzer we show that if a message is initially missed in a cocktail party situation, it can still be saved by retrospective attention, suggesting that conscious access can be untied to sensory processing. Check it out here !

News

ERC Grant awarded to Claire Sergent

I’ve been awarded an ERC Consolidator grant, the project CONSCIOUSBRAIN  is starting for 5 years (2023-2028).

The main objectives of the project are:

  • Designing new experimental approaches to distinguish conscious access both from sensory and executive processes.

  • Applying these tools to assess consciousness in post-coma muted patients.

  • Improving computational models of conscious access by updating the global workspace model to include a new concept: the “global playground”

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Publication

New article in Nature Communications: "Bifurcation in brain dynamics reveals a signature of conscious processing independent of report"

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We combine EEG and modelling to demonstrate that conscious processing is associated with a dynamical bifurcation. Even in the absence of any task on the stimulus, we observe that spontaneous conscious access is associated with a "jump" in brain activity: the same stimulation leads to late and sustained activations when we become conscious of the stimulus, while this late activity is absent when we fail to become conscious of the stimulus.
In the future, we hope to be able to exploit this property in order to help diagnosing consciousness in individuals where behavioral report is difficult to collect, for example patients with unresponsive wakefulness syndrom or minimally conscious state.

Our research

Understanding the psychological properties and neural underpinnings of conscious access

Finding ways to diagnose consciousness in non-communicating patients

Even when we are awake, part of the information processed by our brain escapes our consciousness: we are not aware of it, we are not able to acknowledge or report it. For example, while you are reading this, your brain might be monitoring sounds from the street or a bird song entering through the window, as well as the sensation of a light breeze on your arm, but you are not aware of all that (well, now you are because your attention has been directed to it). The term "conscious access" captures this notion: the possibility to acknowledge, report, manipulate an information. It corresponds to the basic functional properties associated with conscious experience.

In our team we are interested in understanding the psychological properties and the neural underpinnings of this phenomenon. To this aim, we typically compare brain activity in response to the same stimulus according to whether participants report experiencing this stimulus as conscious or not ("seen" or "not seen" for example). Below is the result of one such study from Sergent, Baillet & Dehaene, Nature Neuroscience 2005: the top row shows the film of brain activations in response to a visual word when participant report that they did not see it, and the bottom row shows brain activations to the same visual word when participants report it as seen.

Currently we are interested in detailing the brain dynamics and mechanisms associated with conscious access, in order to find a brain signature of this phenomenon. We also aim at understanding the temporal structure of consciousness. Notably, we try to understand how a conscious stream is constructed from moment to moment conscious access episodes.

This research, conducted on healthy adults, also helps us interrogating consciousness in non-communicating patients (unresponsive wakefulness syndrom or minimally conscious state) through our collaboration with medical teams, mostly in Paris (Lionel Naccache), Lyon (Jacques Luauté & Fabien Perrin) and Toulouse (Stein Silva).

Our research in relation to the field of consciousness research

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Understanding consciousness

The term "consciousness" covers many concepts. This schematic view registers some of the main themes currently investigated in research, and provides a proposition for their inter-relations. In this general landscape, our current research focuses essentially on three aspects: Conscious Access (the moment to moment conscious access to external or internal information), the Conscious Stream (how a conscious stream builds up from these conscious access events) and Conscious State (probing conscious processing in different states: sleep, anaesthesia, non-communicating patients).
As in any domain of science, we are part of a collective effort, encompassing many labs across the world.

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