Human consciousness and its relationship to social neuroscience: A novel hypothesis

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A common modern view of consciousness is that it is an emergent property of the brain, perhaps caused by neuronal complexity, and perhaps with no adaptive value. Exactly what emerges, how it emerges, and from what specific neuronal process, are in debate. One possible explanation of consciousness, proposed here, is that it is a construct of the social perceptual machinery. Humans have specialized neuronal machinery that allows them to be socially intelligent. The primary role of this machinery is to construct models of other people's minds thereby gaining some ability to predict the behavior of other individuals. In the present hypothesis, awareness is a perceptual reconstruction of attentional state; and the machinery that computes information about other people's awareness is the same machinery that computes information about our own awareness. The present paper brings together a variety of lines of evidence, including experiments on the neural basis of social perception, on hemispatial neglect, on the out-of-body experience, on mirror neurons, and on the mechanisms of decision-making, to explore the possibility that awareness is a construct of the social machinery in the brain.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)98-113
Number of pages16
JournalCognitive Neuroscience
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cognitive Neuroscience


  • Attention
  • Awareness
  • Hemispatial neglect
  • Neural correlates of consciousness
  • Out of body
  • Social neuroscience


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