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Consciousness and attention: Learned loops in the brain

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We are conscious of some aspect of the world when we know that we are sensitive to that aspect of the world. For instance, I can see a gorilla but will not be conscious of it unless my brain represents not only the gorilla but also the fact that I am currently seeing the gorilla. There is thus a critical distinction between sensitivity and awareness: I can be sensitive to some content and act appropriately, yet fail to be conscious of that content. This distinction can potentially reconcile seemingly contradictory findings in the literature. It is a distinction between unawareness achieved by a reduction in stimulus quality (i.e., subliminal perception) vs unawareness achieved by a reduction in attention (i.e., the attentional blink). Crucially, attention is modulated by expertise, itself a result of learning. Here, I will attempt to explore the conceptual and epistemological consequences of this distinction in cognitive and in social psychology, as well as delineate a theoretical framework that attempts to offer a mechanistic account of it.