The Dynamics of Consciousness. A Cognitive Model of Conscious Experience Formation.

The proposed research project aims to establish a research team that will investigate the cognitive basis of consciousness. The team will attempt to preliminary verify assumptions made by a proposed model based on one of the most popular contemporary theory of consciousness – Higher-Order Thought Theory. The model assumes that both, the process of getting conscious access to any content and of conscious experience formation are based on dynamic interactions between automatically activated representation constituting the content of consciousness (first order thought) and metarepresentation that interprets the lower order representation (higher-order thought). Adopting this assumption, the project proposes numerous experimental studies which aim to analyse the role of the two levels of representation for conscious experience formation. Assuming the universal character of the mechanisms that underlie the formation of conscious experience, it is planned to apply a series of experimental manipulations in a context of different consciousness contents (visual, memory and somatosensory). With the experimental procedures proposed in the project that are based on the unified theoretical assumptions it will be possible to determine the role of both levels of representation (first-order and higher-order) in the process of conscious experience formation, regardless of the type of conscious contents. The study aims to demonstrate that any change at each level of representation alters the nature of subjective experience.

The research will use a set of standard cognitive psychology procedures (psychophysical methods of limits, artificial grammar learning task, lexical decision task, binocular rivalry) in order to propose the series of experimental manipulations described in the proposal. Additionally, it is planned to use advanced research tools proposed in the context of research on somatosensory consciousness: a head-mounted display (to study binocular rivalry and to conduct the research on the relationship between perception and a body model) and the Enactive Torch device (to investigate changes in spatial representation with sensory substitution). In all experiments planned within the project, manipulations will be applied to modify one of the representation levels. This, following the assumptions of the model, should lead to qualitative changes in subjective experience. Subjective scales of consciousness and other verbal report methods will also be used to assess the change in subjects’ experience and to investigate how higher-order representation influences the formation of this experience.

The goal of the projects is to verify the assumptions that underlie one of the most influential theories of consciousness nowadays, e.g. the higher-order thought theory. The research will provide new data that will help to identify the cognitive mechanisms of different levels of representation. This should allow the description of the mechanisms which underlie conscious experience, depending on its content. Because of its fundamental and universal nature, the conclusions derived from the proposed project on the mechanisms of conscious experience formation can provide important data to other areas of psychology.