SAN FRANCISCO – Your fingers start to burn after picking up a hot plate; should you drop the plate or save your meal? New research suggests it is your consciousness that resolves these dilemmas by serving as the brain’s Wi-Fi network.
“If the brain is like a set of computers that control different tasks, consciousness is the Wi-Fi network that allows different parts of the brain to talk to each other and decide which action ‘wins’ and is carried out,” said Ezequiel Morsella.
Morsella, who led the study, is professor of psychology at San Francisco State University (SFSU).
The study says we are only aware of competing actions that involve skeletal muscles that voluntarily move parts of the body, the bicep for example, rather than the muscles in the digestive tract or the iris of the eye.
In lab experiments, participants were trained to identify and report changes in their awareness, or the feeling of being about to make a mistake, while in a state of readiness to perform simple exercises.
The results demonstrated that merely preparing to perform an incompatible action, for example preparing to move simultaneously left and right, triggered stronger changes in awareness than preparing to perform a compatible action.
The findings support a new theory developed by Morsella which predicts that the primary role of consciousness is to bring together competing demands on skeletal muscle.
Morsella’s theory also proposes that consciousness allows individuals to adapt their actions in the future, for example wearing an oven mitten (glove) to hold a hot dish.
These findings were published in the journal Emotion.