Attributing awareness to others: The attention schema theory and its relationship to behavioural prediction

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16 Scopus citations


The attention schema theory provides a single coherent framework for understanding three seemingly unrelated phenomena. The first is our ability to control our own attention through predictive modelling. The second is a fundamental part of social cognition, or theory of mind — our ability to reconstruct the attention of others, and to use that model of attention to help make behavioural predictions about others. The third is our claim to have a subjective consciousness — not merely information inside us, but something else in addition that is non-physical — and to believe that others have the same property. In the attention schema theory, all three phenomena stem from the same source. The brain constructs a useful internal model of attention. This article summarizes the theory and discusses one aspect of it in greater detail: How an attention schema may be useful for predicting the behaviour of others. The article outlines a hypothetical, artificial system that can make time-varying behavioural predictions about other people, and concludes that attributing some form of awareness to others is a useful computational part of the prediction engine.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)17-37
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Consciousness Studies
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Philosophy
  • Psychology (miscellaneous)
  • Artificial Intelligence


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