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Surprising Science

Where Is Consciousness Located in the Brain?

York College behavioral scientist Robert Duncan addresses whether researchers have successfully located consciousness in the brain’s biology and what that might mean. 

What’s the Latest Development?

Behavioral scientist at York College, Robert Duncan addresses how far neurology has come in finding consciousness by looking closely at the brain’s biology. Currently, consciousness is thought to be a result of metacognition, i.e. planning, reasoning and social intelligence. Those activities are mainly controlled by the brain’s prefrontal cortex region, but because the region serves other functions and is well-connected to other regions, it is probably necessary but not sufficient for consciousness to arise. Scientists have therefore looked at the prefrontal cortex across species. 

What’s the Big Idea?

Though dolphins and apes both exhibit self-awareness, their brains look completely different. For this reason, some scientists believe consciousness is caused by a confluence of factors, including larger brain size or a higher degree of connectivity between different areas of the brain. “The difficulties we have assessing self-awareness demonstrate that it is a complex trait and support the idea that no single brain area is dedicated to it,” says Duncan. But given the ethereal nature of consciousness, will it help our understanding of ourselves to know how it emerges from the brain?

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