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Unraveling How the Brain Goes from Conscious to Subliminal Perception

One of the biggest challenges in neuroscience is figuring out how the brain transitions from conscious to unconscious or subliminal perception, and what that transition looks like. A new study featured on the cover of Neuroscience takes a step toward solving that puzzle.

The study found that the most robust and central part of the brain network in charge of conscious perception is, in fact, located in the subliminal network.

Neuroscience journal cover inspired by researcher Francesca Arese Lucini shows how the conscious activity in the brain (depicted as the frontal cortex at the top of the image) evanesces into the unconscious part of the brain which is in the lower part.
Neuroscience journal cover inspired by researcher Francesca Arese Lucini shows how the conscious activity in the brain (depicted as the frontal cortex at the top of the image) evanesces into the unconscious part of the brain which is in the lower part.

“This study will probably interest those entrepreneurs or researchers that will focus on artificial intelligence and human computer interaction devices,” said Francesca Lucini, Ph.D. student and first author on the paper, in an interview with CUNY.

Lucini’s co-authors included research associate Gino Del Ferraro and Professor Hernán Makse of The City College of New York and The Graduate Center. Lucini created the design that appeared on the journal’s cover.

The scientists analyzed data from a study done in 2001. In that study, volunteers watched as words and images flashed on a screen—some designed to be noticed and processed consciously, others meant to pass unnoticed but be processed subliminally. The 2001 study authors scanned the volunteers’ brains using fMRI to see what parts of the brain were involved in taking in these images.

The CCNY scientists took a fresh look at this fMRI data, locating the conscious and subliminal networks of perception. They then picked apart the conscious network to find its “k-core”—a term used in graph theory that can represent the most central and robust part of a network.

The k-core of the conscious network, they found, is located in the subliminal network. From here, Lucini said, researchers can hypothesize that part of the conscious network is built upon the unconscious—an idea that could interest startups that are investing resources to understand how the human brain works.

Beyond SUM

Work By

Francesca Lucini (Ph.D. student , Neuroscience) | Profile 1
Hernan Makse (Professor, Physics) | Profile 1 | Profile 2