Can humans perceive their brain states?

Consciousness and Cognition 11 (1):98-113 (2002)
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Although the brain enables us to perceive the external world and our body, it remains unknown whether brain processes themselves can be perceived. Brain tissue does not have receptors for its own activity. However, the ability of humans to acquire self-control of brain processes indicates that the perception of these processes may also be achieved by learning. In this study patients learned to control low-frequency components of their EEG: the so-called slow cortical potentials (SCPs). In particular ''probe'' sessions, the patients estimated the quality of the SCP shift they had produced in the preceding trial. The correspondence between the recorded SCP amplitudes and the subjective estimates increased with training. The ability to perceive the SCPs was related to the ability to control them; this perception was not mediated by peripheral variables such as changes in muscle tonus and cannot be reduced to simple vigilance monitoring. These data provide evidence that humans can learn to perceive the neural activity of their brain. Alternative interpretations are discussed.



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