Global Workspace Theory of Consciousness

global workspace theory of consciousnessGlobal Workspace Theory of Consciousness

Consciousness is a concept that contains a multitude of various theories and concepts associated with awareness and attention (Sternberg, Sternberg, & Mio, 2012). Consciousness, when formulated with attention consists of two moderate sets that overlap and encompass casual roles in cognition. This overlapping in cognition consists of three purposes, which include the first pertaining to environment, the second with linking past memories with our present sensations for a continuity of experiences, and the third being associated with a controlled aspect of planning for future actions (Sternberg et al., 2012). These three concepts are unique because they provide a foundation for information from the monitoring and linking between past memories and current sensations (Sternberg et al., 2012). One such concept is the workspace theory of conciseness and how this theory is associated with how consciousness and the significant role with the brain when consciousness does arise.

The Global Workspace Theory

Theoretical neurobiologist Bernard Baars was the main developer and proponent to the global workspace theory of consciousness (Bartolomei, McGonigal, & Naccache, 2014). Baars’ global workspace theory of consciousness purposes that cerebral networks are consistently active within the parallel process of information and a functional neurological structure (Bartolomei et al., 2014). This in turn, establishes that consciousness transmits information to a global workspace and a self-sustained brain scale of coherent activity that incorporates and distributes neurons effectively throughout the brain (Bartolomei et al., 2014). Once this function of neurons takes place in the brain, workspace neurons develop from long distance connectivity, but only for a minimal duration (Bartolomei et al., 2014). According to this model, consciousness arises with a global availability through the workspace and leads to experiences of a consciousness state of mind (Bartolomei et al., 2014).

Global Workspace Theory and the Brain

The global workspace model consists of three conditions that are present in the brain and are subsequently met to facilitate the workspace theory and how the brain functions when consciousness arises. First, the information from sensory neuron, or workspace neurons needs to be present and characterized by networks of these specific neurons (Robinson, 2009). This process is then linked to the brains primary visual cortex, which is located towards the rear of the brain (Robinson, 2009). The primary visual cortex is involved with processing incoming visual signals which are linked to the global workspace theory of consciousness (Robinson, 2009). Second, this visual representation of signals must last in a long enough duration, so that access to attention can be accomplished, processed and subsequently, ignite the brains frontal cortex and prefrontal cortex (Robinson, 2009). Once the brains frontal and prefrontal cortex are activated a multitude of information is distributed and processed in conjunction with consciousness arising (Robinson, 2009). Finally, the third step is accomplished when the combination of steps one and two are completed, including “bottom-up information propagation and top-down amplification through attention must ignite to create a state of reverberating” (Robinson, 2009 p. 1). These steps are, according to the model, cause coherent activity among the aforementioned parts of the brain to cause consciousness (Robinson, 2009).

Global Workspace Theory Results

Numerous experimental studies have been applied to the global workspace theory, which have resulted in empirical findings (Baars, Franklin, & Ramsoy, 2013). These different experiments have been conducted by use of brain imaging which have led to a prediction that the global workspace theory contains the notion of broadcasting and widespread integration, which is described as the consciousness or unconsciousness containing both consciousness and unconscious stimuli (Baars et al., 2013).

Other empirical evidence has led to an experimental technique known as the “flash suppression” (Baars et al., 2013). This method was successful because it allows for “constructive analysis” of both the consciousness and the unconsciousness (Baars et al., 2013). This concept also contains the relevancy of identical stimulus, which is conducive to a pair of eyes and their involvement with consciousness (Baars et al., 2013). The most recent experimental results; reports that the global theory of consciousness places a relevant role in temporal regions (Baars et al., 2013). These regions incorporate the MTL, IT and the temporal cortex (Baars et al., 2013).

The Brains Thalamus and Cortex

Consciousness experiences have been analyzed in the different regions of the brain with these specific regions being attributed to consciousness experiences; “The cortex, thalamus, brainstem reticular formation, claustrum, zona incerta, colliculi, prefrontal cortex, visual feature fields, and thalamocortical projections” (Bartolomei, McGonigal, & Naccache, 2014 pg. 3). Though these different regions play a significant role with the arising of consciousness, the readings in the living brain support indicate support that the thalamus and cortex account for the consciousness arising in humans (Baars et al., 2013). Various brain scans have also correlated this by providing evidence that the activation in these areas are present during different brain activities associated with consciousness (Baars et al., 2013).

Discussion and Conclusions

The global workspace theory comprises of specific functions associated with different regions of the brain, specifically in the thalamus and cortex. These regions have shown plausibility in their function and relationship to how consciousness arises within individuals. Other elements of the global workspace theory have gleaned that certain networks, in regards to consciousness being attributed to neurons and brain networks also have the capability of assisting in ventral streams (Wallace, 2005). Undoubtedly, there are different theories associated with consciousness and why and when consciousness occurs. More testing of different variables is necessary to determine more particular brain function associated with consciousness and the various regions of the brain, neurons, stimuli and other keys factors associated with consciousness.



Baars, B. J., Franklin, S., & Ramsoy, T. (2013). Global workspace dynamics: Cortical ‘binding and propagation’ enables conscious contents. Frontiers In Psychology, 4doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00200

Bartolomei, F., McGonigal, A., & Naccache, L. (2014). Alteration of consciousness in focal epilepsy: The global workspace alteration theory. Epilepsy & Behavior, 3017-23. doi:10.1016/j.yebeh.2013.09.012

Robinson, R. (2009). Exploring the Global Workspace of Consciousness. Plos Biology, 7(3), e1000066. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1000066

Sternberg, R. Sternberg, K & Mio, J. (2012). Attention. Cognitive Psychology (6t ed.). Mason, Ohio: Cengage.

Wallace, D. (2011). Consciousness: A Simple Information Theory Global Workspace Model.

Wallace, R. (2005). A modular network treatment of Baars’ Global Workspace consciousness model.





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