Autonomic Markers of Visual Awareness



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The mind–body problem in philosophy examines the relationship between mind and matter, and in particular, the relationship between consciousness and the brain. In order to provide a scientific footing to this centuries old philosophical problem, an investigation into the interaction between consciousness and the autonomic nervous system, which controls the internal viscera, is required. However, this issue has received scant attention to date. Here, I investigate the response of the autonomic system and its sympathetic and parasympathetic components, to visual awareness using classical paradigms of binocular rivalry and visual detection, using a combination of electrocardiography (ECG), impedance cardiography (ICG) and pupillometry to examine cardiac autonomic functions, namely heart rate, the high-frequency component of heart rate variability (HRV), pre-ejection period (PEP) and change in pupil area. My studies reveal that the parasympathetic component dominates the autonomic response to visual awareness; physical alternation of stimuli has effects on the autonomic activation that go above and beyond alternations in percept; and uncertainty of subjective judgment drives the dynamics of autonomic response. The present studies, from the autonomic pathway, demonstrate that “mind affects body in action”, which leads to a more integrative view of sensory awareness and suggests the involvement of structures in the nervous system above and beyond the cortex.



Visual awareness, Autonomic nervous system, Visual detection, Binocular rivalry, Heart rate, Heart rate variability, Pre-ejection period, Pupil