Date of Graduation

Spring 2018

Document Type

Honors Research Project

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts

Major

Psychology

Research Sponsor

Dr. Kevin Kaut

First Reader

Dr. Philip Allen

Second Reader

Dr. David Tokar

Abstract

Historically, the scientific and medical communities have taken a corticocentric view on consciousness, emphasizing the need for a cortex in producing the conscious experience. The preserved consciousness observed in hydranencephalic children and decorticated rats suggests that some form of consciousness may be produced by a subcortical network. The brainstem, a phylogenetically ancient and conserved brain structure, could serve as the major integrative machinery to produce this form of consciousness, which is called affective consciousness—the evolutionary antecedent to the reflective consciousness that allows humans to reflect on their experiences. The functional convergence of the brainstem with the amygdala, motor system, and other subcortical structures provides the necessary architecture to support an affective state of consciousness by which instinctual-emotional goal-directed behavior is produced. This subcortical system operates by what Merker (2007) calls the selection triangle—an interface between bodily actions (action selection), the world (target selection), and personal motivation—to produce action through integration. By this model, it is possible that consciousness may persist in the absence of a cortex, such as in the persistent vegetative state. Because of this, it is necessary to establish that multiple forms of consciousness exist and to distinguish between affective and reflective consciousness, because such a distinction would have tremendous ethical implications in the conventional medical treatment of those with disorders of consciousness.

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