Autonoetic consciousness

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Autonoetic consciousness is the human ability to mentally place ourselves in the past, in the future, or in counterfactual situations, and to thus be able to examine our own thoughts.

Our sense of self affects our behavior, in the present, past and future. It relates to how we reflect on our own past behavior, how we feel about it, and this in turn determines if we do it again (Baddeley, Eysenck & Anderson 2009, p. [page needed]).

It is episodic memory that deals with self-awareness, memories of the self (Baddeley, Eysenck & Anderson 2009, p. [page needed]) and inward thoughts that may be projected onto future actions of an individual (Baddeley, Eysenck & Anderson 2009, p. [page needed]). It was “proposed by [Endel] Tulving for self-awareness, allowing the rememberer to reflect on the contents of episodic memory” (Baddeley, Eysenck & Anderson 2009, p. [page needed]). Moreover, autonoetic consciousness involves behaviors such as mental time travel (Schacter, et al., 2007; Suddendorf and Corballis, 2007), self-projection (Buckner and Carroll, 2007) and episodic future thinking (Atance and O'Neill, 2001), all of which have often been proposed as exclusively human capacities.[1]

The self[edit]

Autonoetic consciousness is important in our formation of our “self” identity. What we have done in the past becomes a part of our “self” and the ability to reflect on this influences our behavior in the now.

In psychology, the self is often used for that set of attributes that a person attaches to himself or herself most firmly, the attributes that the person finds it difficult or impossible to imagine himself or herself without (Perry 1995). Identity is also used to describe this (Perry 1995). A person’s gender is part of their identity but their profession, for example, may not be (Perry 1995).

In philosophy, the self is the agent, the knower and the ultimate locus of personal identity (Perry 1995). This self, the identity of which is at the bottom of every action, and involved in every bit of knowledge, is the self philosophers worry about (Perry 1995). Nevertheless, care of the self is of utmost importance in the bios-logos relationship (Foucault, Parrhesia, 2007).

A straightforward view of the self would be that the self is just the person, and that a person is a physical system (Perry 1995). There are two problems with this view. First, the nature of freedom and consciousness has convinced many philosophers that there is a fundamentally non-physical aspect of persons (Perry 1995). The second challenge stems from puzzling aspects of self-knowledge, as the knowledge we have of ourselves seems very unlike the knowledge we have of other objects in several ways (Perry 1995).

The parietal cortex[edit]

The parietal cortex is strongly involved in autonoetic consciousness. Damage to areas of the parietal cortex can lead to different functioning errors, including changes in personality.

The parietal lobes can be divided into two functional regions. One involves sensation and perception, and the other is concerned with integrating sensory input, primarily with the visual system (Neuroskills: TBI Resource Guide). The first function integrates sensory information to form a single perception (Neuroskills: TBI Resource Guide). The second function constructs a spatial coordinate system to represent the world around us (Neuroskills: TBI Resource Guide).

Individuals with damage to the parietal lobes often show striking deficits, such as abnormalities in body image and spatial relations (Neuroskills: TBI Resource Guide).

Damage to the left parietal lobe can result in what is called Gerstmann's syndrome which includes right-left confusion, difficulty with writing, and difficulty with mathematics (Neuroskills: TBI Resource Guide). It can also produce disorders of language, and the inability to perceive objects normally (Neuroskills: TBI Resource Guide).

Damage to the right parietal lobe can result in neglecting part of the body or space, which can impair many self-care skills such as dressing and washing (Neuroskills: TBI Resource Guide). Right side damage can also cause difficulty in making things, denial of deficits, and drawing ability (Neuroskills: TBI Resource Guide).

Bi-lateral damage can cause Bálint's syndrome, a visual attention and motor syndrome (Neuroskills: TBI Resource Guide). This is characterized by the inability to voluntarily control the gaze, inability to integrate components of a visual scene, and the inability to accurately reach for an object with visual guidance (Neuroskills: TBI Resource Guide).

Left parietal-temporal lesions can affect verbal memory and the ability to recall strings of digits (Neuroskills: TBI Resource Guide).

The right parietal-temporal lobe is concerned with non-verbal memory (Neuroskills: TBI Resource Guide). Right parietal-temporal lesions can produce significant changes in personality (Neuroskills: TBI Resource Guide).

Lesions in the right parietal lobe influence personality, and this could be because the parietal lobe has to do with our sense of self. Our sense of self is strongly reflected in our personality.

Some common tests for parietal lobe function are: Kimura Box Test (apraxia) and the Two-Point Discrimination Test (somatosensory) (Neuroskills: TBI Resource Guide).

During episodic retrieval, functional imaging studies consistently show differential activity in medial prefrontal and medial parietal cortices (Lou et al. 2004).

With positron emission tomography, it has been shown that the medial regions are functionally connected and interact with lateral regions that are activated according to the degree of self-reference (Lou et al. 2004).

For example, in one study, during retrieval of previous judgments of oneself, best friend, and the Danish Queen, activation increased in the left lateral temporal cortex and decreased in the right inferior parietal region with decreasing self-reference (Lou et al. 2004). The decrease in parietal cortex activation may then prove it is a nodal structure in self representation, functionally connected to both the right parietal and the medial prefrontal cortices (Lou et al. 2004). There was a decrease in the efficiency of retrieval of previous judgment of mental Self compared with retrieval of judgment of Other with transcranial magnetic stimulation at a latency of 160 ms, confirming the hypothesis that the medial parietal cortex in this network is essential for episodic memory retrieval with self-representation (Lou et al. 2004).

This network is strikingly similar to the network of the resting conscious state, suggesting that self-monitoring is a core function in resting consciousness. (Lou et al. 2004).

Episodic memory and the self[edit]

For a coherent and meaningful life, conscious self-representation is mandatory (Lou et al. 2004). Autonoetic consciousness is thought to emerge by retrieval of memory of personally experienced events (episodic memory) (Lou et al. 2004). Without the ability to reflect on our past experiences, we would be stuck in a state of constant awakening, without a past and therefore unable to prepare for the future.

Episodic memory is the memory we have for our past experiences, which influence our now, and our future. This is different from procedural memory, which is our memory for how to do things. Episodic memories influence our thinking about ourselves, good and bad.

Autobiographical memories can be retrieved from either the first person perspective, in which individuals see the event through their own eyes, or from the third person perspective, in which individuals see themselves and the event from the perspective of an external observer (Sutin & Robins 2008).

A growing body of research suggests that the visual perspective from which a memory is retrieved has important implications for a person's thoughts, feelings, and goals, and is integrally related to a host of self- evaluative processes (Sutin & Robins 2008).

Event related potentials[edit]

ERPs can measure autonoetic consciousness scientifically. Event-related brain potentials (ERPs) are a non-invasive method of measuring brain activity during cognitive processing (Ullman, Michael). The transient electric potential shifts (so-called ERP components) are time-locked to the stimulus onset (e.g., the presentation of a word, a sound, or an image) (Ullman, Michael). Each component reflects brain activation associated with one or more mental operations (Ullman, Michael).

In contrast to behavioral measures such as error rates and response times, ERPs are characterized by simultaneous multi-dimensional online measures of polarity (negative or positive potentials), amplitude, latency, and scalp distribution (Ullman, Michael). Therefore, ERPs can be used to distinguish and identify psychological and neural sub-processes involved in complex cognitive, motor, or perceptual tasks (Ullman, Michael).

Unlike fMRI, they provide extremely high time resolution, in the range of one millisecond (Ullman, Michael).

The methodological advantages of ERPs have resulted in an ever increasing number of ERP studies in cognitive neuroscience, cognitive psychology, psycholinguistics, neurolinguistics, neuropsychology and neurology (Ullman, Michael). ERPs have also been used to identify patients who seem to be "brain-dead" but in fact are not (Ullman, Michael).

There is an event-related potential (ERP) experiment of human recognition memory that explored the relation between conscious awareness and electrophysiological activity of the brain (Duzel et al. 1997). ERPs were recorded from healthy adults while they made “remember” and “know” recognition judgments about previously seen words (Duzel et al. 1997), reflecting “Autonoetic” and “Noetic” awareness, respectively (Duzel et al. 1997). The ERP effects differed between the two kinds of awareness while they were similar for “true” and “false” recognition (Duzel et al. 1997).

In a study of real-time noninvasive recordings of the brain's electrical activity (event-related potentials, ERPs), there was a common neural “signature” that is associated with self-referential processing regardless of whether subjects are retrieving general knowledge (noetic awareness) or re-experiencing past episodes (autonoetic awareness) (Magno & Allan 2007).

Social anxiety disorder[edit]

Social anxiety disorder is an example of how bad experiences can also lead to our behaviors. It demonstrates how our thoughts influence our feelings about ourselves and therefore our actions in society around us. It has to do with a person’s self-esteem, fear of failure, shame, fear of offending, and fear of strangers.

Cognitive models of social anxiety disorder (SAD) believe the social self is a key psychological mechanism that maintains fear of negative evaluation in social and performance situations (Anderson et al. 2008). Consequently, a distorted self-view is evident when recalling painful autobiographical social memories, as reflected in linguistic expression, negative self-beliefs, and emotion and avoidance (Anderson et al. 2008).

To test this hypothesis, 42 adults diagnosed with SAD and 27 non-psychiatric healthy controls composed autobiographical narratives of distinct social anxiety related situations, generated negative self-beliefs, and provided emotion and avoidance ratings (Anderson et al. 2008).

Although narratives were matched for initial emotional intensity and present vividness, linguistic analyses demonstrated that, compared to the control group, the SAD group employed more self-referential, anxiety, and sensory words, and made fewer references to other people (Anderson et al. 2008). Social anxiety symptom severity, however, was associated with greater self-referential NSB in SAD only (Anderson et al. 2008).

SAD reported greater current self-conscious emotions when recalling autobiographical social situations, and greater active avoidance of similar situations than did the control group (Anderson et al. 2008). Autobiographical memory of social situations in SAD may influence current and future thinking, emotion, and behavioral avoidance (Anderson et al. 2008).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hills, T. T., and Butterfill, S., "From foraging to autonoetic consciousness: The primal self as a consequence of embodied prospective foraging," in Current Zoology, Volume 61, Issue 2, 2015, p. 369.


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  5. Duzel, Emrah; Yonelinas, Andrew P.; Mangun, George R.; Heinze, Hans-Jochen; Tulving, Endel (1997). "Event-related brain potential correlates of two states of conscious awareness in memory". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 94 (11): 5973–8. doi:10.1073/pnas.94.11.5973. PMC 20891Freely accessible. PMID 9159185. 
  6. Anderson, Barrett; Goldin, Philippe R.; Kurita, Keiko; Gross, James J. (2008). "Self-representation in social anxiety disorder: Linguistic analysis of autobiographical narratives". Behaviour Research and Therapy. 46 (10): 1119–25. doi:10.1016/j.brat.2008.07.001. PMC 2630512Freely accessible. PMID 18722589. 
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  9. "Parietal Lobes". TBI Resource Guide. Centre for Neuro Skills. [unreliable source?]
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