Criteria for consciousness in humans and other mammals

Seth, Anil K, Baars, Bernard J and Edelman, David B (2005) Criteria for consciousness in humans and other mammals. Consciousness and Cognition, 14 (1). pp. 119-139. ISSN 1053-8100

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The standard behavioral index for human consciousness is the ability to report events with accuracy. While this method is routinely used for scientific and medical applications in humans, it is not easy to generalize to other species. Brain evidence may lend itself more easily to comparative testing. Human consciousness involves widespread, relatively fast low-amplitude interactions in the thalamocortical core of the brain, driven by current tasks and conditions. These features have also been found in other mammals, which suggests that consciousness is a major biological adaptation in mammals. We suggest more than a dozen additional properties of human consciousness that may be used to test comparative predictions. Such homologies are necessarily more remote in non-mammals, which do not share the thalamocortical complex. However, as we learn more we may be able to make deeper predictions that apply to some birds, reptiles, large-brained invertebrates, and perhaps other species.

Item Type: Article
Additional Information: Originality: Provides a novel set of criteria and properties by which to assess the presence of consciousness in humans and other mammals. Rigour: Taking the human case as a benchmark, this paper provides a critical analysis of behavioral, neurophysiological, and functional criteria that pertain to consciousness and it focuses on their application to non-human animals. Significance: The paper counters the common intuition that animal consciousness is best assessed by protolinguistic or metacognitive means. It extends the range of organisms to which we have good reason to ascribe phenomenal experience, a position which has many theoretical and ethical implications. It considers in detail the possibility of consciousness in species that lack obvious homologies with humans, including birds and cephalopods. Impact: 18 external citations in Google Scholar. The paper is likely to serve as an agenda-setting foundational paper for the rapidly expanding field of non-human consciousness. The work has received international media coverage (e.g., as part of a neuroethics series in Germany) and formed the basis of a well-received tutorial session on animal consciousness at the premier international conference on consciousness (ASSC10, Oxford, June 2006) as well as a plenary session at the following meeting (ASSC11, June 2007, Las Vegas). Most scientific discussions of animal consciousness are likely to make reference to the agenda set out in this paper.
Schools and Departments: School of Engineering and Informatics > Informatics
Depositing User: Anil Seth
Date Deposited: 06 Feb 2012 20:36
Last Modified: 13 Jun 2012 11:41
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