CogniFit's Science blog: Unconscious Brains Still Able To Process Information

Unconscious Brains Still Able To Process Information

It is known for a fact that the last 30 years of neuroscience research have seen the most amazing developments in the knowledge of the brain. Still, this very unique part of our body remains a mystery to the scientific community and even more to the general population. 

It is a very hard task to fully understand how the brain functions, but it is even harder to understand how it works when unconscious. The study of the changes occurring as a consequence of brain damage, offer significant learnings in this area. Apart from the loss of cognitive skills related to brain damage, it is also possible to learn how the nervous system deals with consciousness. 

Interestingly new findings reported in the latest issue of Elsevier’s Cortex provide an insight that an unconscious brain is able to continue the process of information even when the conscious brain is incapacitated. The subject of this research was a patient who had damaged his brain in an accident and had developed prosopagnosia (face blindness). 

The research included the measurement of the patient’s non-conscious responses to familiar faces. For this, several different physiological measures of brain activity were used, including fMRI and EEG. These included showing the patient photographs or some unknown and famous people (including famous people that the patient would be able to recognize, and other that she wouldn’t be normally able to recognize). 

The results have shown that while due to the brain damage the patient was not able to recognize any of the photographs, her brain activity responded to the faces she was supposed to know as famous. This result has demonstrated that while the brain activity was severely damaged and the presence of an impairment in conscious processing was apparent, implicit processing would continue to occur. 

The results of this research also suggest that the collaboration of several cerebral structures in a specific temporal order is necessary for the visual awareness to arise.