How the hierarchical organization of the brain and increasing cognitive abilities may result in consciousness

B.M. Spruijt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


Defining perception, awareness, consciousness and reflexive or self-reflexive consciousness is difficult. I will not linger on definitions of fuzzy concepts but will attempt to put forward evidence for the rationale that awareness is likely to emerge as a consequence of how the brain processes information. Efficiency in information processing has resulted in a limited number of preferential (motivational) states of the brain and, in fact, of the whole organism. In addition, animals have the ability to internally represent external conditions and, through interactions with the motivational state, generate expectations. It is argued that optimal decision-making requires that possible sequences of behaviours each activate their associated neuronal networks representing cue- and context-related information. Prior to the initiation of an action, the consequences of each possible scenario are estimated. An efficient animal must have the ability to anticipate, weight and choose. This weighting occurs at a hierarchically higher level and results in signals which possess a coordinative function in activating the appropriate motivational state, response selection, activation of associated networks and maintenance of attention. Higher cognitive executive centres perceive and recognize such signals and integrate ongoing behaviour with internal representations about the past and expectations within the context of the signal induced state. Humans experience these simultaneously-occurring processes as awareness. The nature of the subjective experience may vary from an emotional state to reflexive consciousness depending on the cognitive abilities of the species and the stage of development and the level of arousal in the individual.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)577-597
JournalAnimal Welfare
Publication statusPublished - 2001

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