Attention control and the attention schema theory of consciousness

Andrew I. Wilterson, Casey M. Kemper, Noah Kim, Taylor W. Webb, Alexandra M.W. Reblando, Michael S.A. Graziano

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


In the attention schema theory (AST), the brain constructs a schematic, simplified model of attention. The model is associated with three cognitive processes: a model of one's own attention contributes to the endogenous control of attention, a model of the attention of others contributes to theory of mind, and the contents of these models leads to the common human claim that we contain a non-physical consciousness or awareness inside us. Because AST is a control-engineering style theory, it can make specific predictions in complex situations. Here, over six experiments, we examined interactions between attention and awareness to test predictions of AST. Participants performed a visual task in which a cue stimulus affected their attention, as measured by their reactions to a subsequent target stimulus. The task measured both exogenous attention drawn to the cue and endogenous attention directed to a target location predicted by the cue. When participants were not aware that the cue predicted the target, both exogenous and endogenous attention effects remained. In contrast, when participants were not visually aware of the cue itself, the exogenous attention effect remained and the endogenous effect was impaired. In an additional two experiments, when participants learned an implicit shift of attention, the learning generalized from trained spatial locations to adjacent, untrained locations. Each of these findings matched predictions of AST. The results support the interpretation that attention control relies partly on an internal model that is responsible for claims of awareness.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number101844
JournalProgress in Neurobiology
StatePublished - Dec 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Neuroscience


  • Awareness
  • Consciousness
  • Endogenous attention
  • Exogenous attention
  • Internal model


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