Consciousness: Mechanisms


The concept of consciousness may refer to the normal wakeful state of the brain or specific brain functions such as orienting to sensory events or controlling voluntary responses. Separate mechanisms have been related to each of these functions of consciousness.

Keywords: attention; arousal; executive control; orienting; vegetative state


Alkire MT, Haier RJ and Fallon JH (2000) Toward a unified theory of narcosis: brain imaging evidence for a thalamocortical switch as the neurophysiologic basis of anesthetic‐induced unconsciousness. Consciousness and Cognition 9(3): 370–386.

Boly M, Faymonville M‐E, Peigneux P et al. (2004) Auditory processing in severely brain injured patients: differences between the minimally conscious state and the persistent vegetative state. Archives of Neurology 61: 233–238.

Braun AR, Balkin TJ, Wesenten NJ et al. (1997) Regional cerebral blood flow throughout the sleep‐wake cycle. An H2(15)O PET study. Brain 120(Part 7): 1173–1197.

Colombo J (2001) The development of visual attention in infancy. Annual Review of Psychology 52: 337–367.

Corbetta M and Shulman GL (2002) Control of goal‐directed and stimulus‐driven attention in the brain. Nature Neuroscience Reviews 3: 201–215.

Dehaene S, Kerszberg M and Changeus J‐P (1998) A neuronal model of a global workspace in effortful cognitive tasks. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA 95: 1452–1453.

Duncan J, Seitz RJ, Kolodny J et al. (2000) A neural basis for general intelligence. Science 289: 457–460.

Edelman G (2003) Naturalizing consciousness: a theoretical perspective. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA 100: 5520–5524.

Giacino JT, Ashwal S, Childs N et al. (2002) The minimally conscious state: definition and diagnostic criteria. Neurology 58: 349–353.

Plum F and Posner JB (1982) The Diagnosis of Stupor and Coma. Philadelphia: F.A. Davis Co.

Rensink RA, O'Regan JK and Clark JJ (1997) To see or not to see: the need for attention to perceive changes in scenes. Psychological Science 8: 368–373.

Schiff ND and Plum F (2000) The role of arousal and ‘gating’ systems in the neurology of impaired consciousness. Journal of Clinical Neurophysiology 17: 438–452.

Schiff N, Ribary U, Moreno D et al. (2002) Residual cerebral activity and behavioral fragments in the persistent vegetative state. Brain 125: 1210–1234.

Steriade M, Jones E and McCormick D (1997) Thalamus. Amsterdam: Elsevier.

Further Reading

Beauregard M, Levesque J and Bourgouin P (2001) Neural correlates of conscious self‐regulation of emotion. Journal of Neuroscience 21: RC 165.

Damasio A (1994) Descartes Error: Emotion, Reason and the Brain. New York: G.P. Putnam.

Ochsner KN, Bunge SA, Gross JJ and Gabrieli JDE (2002) Rethinking feelings: an fMRI study of the cognitive regulation of emotion. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience 14: 1215–1229.

Posner MI (1994) Attention: The mechanism of consciousness. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA 91(16): 7398–7402.

Rueda MR, Posner MI and Rothbart MK (2004) Attentional control and self regulation. In: Baumeister, RF and Vohs KD (eds) Handbook of Self‐Regulation: Research, Theory, and Applications, chap 14, pp. 283–300. New York: Guilford Press.

Ruff HA and Rothbart MK (1996) Attention in Early Development: Themes and Variations. New York: Oxford University Press.

Contact Editor close
Submit a note to the editor about this article by filling in the form below.

* Required Field

How to Cite close
Schiff, Nicholas D, and Posner, Michael I(Sep 2005) Consciousness: Mechanisms. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1038/npg.els.0003377]