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BBC - Brain, Body and Consciousness

English title BBC - Brain, Body and Consciousness
Applicant Britz Juliane
Number 189408
Funding scheme Project funding
Research institution Département de Psychologie Université de Fribourg
Institution of higher education University of Fribourg - FR
Main discipline Psychology
Start/End 01.01.2020 - 31.12.2023
Approved amount 398'184.00
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Keywords (8)

cardiac phase; respiration; ECG; inattentional blindness; consciousness; sensory threshold; EEG microstates; baroreceptors

Lay Summary (German)

Das Gehirn spielt eine zentrale Rolle für das Bewusstsein und die bewusste Wahrnehmung. Jedoch ist das Gehirn als Organ unentwirrbar mit dem Rest des Körpers verbunden, und erstaunlicherweise beeinflussen körperliche Rhythmen wie Herzaktivität und Atmung ebenfalls die bewusste Wahrnehmung. In diesem Projekt untersuchen wir, wie das Gehirn und Körper zusammenspielen, um uns unserer Umwelt bewusst zu werden.
Lay summary

Wir möchten in mehreren Experimenten untersuchen, wie Gehirn und Köper zur bewussten Wahrnehmung beitragen. Dazu messen wir gleichzeitig die elektrische Gehirnaktivität, die Herzaktivität und die Atmung, während die Versuchspersonen Stimuli sehen, die nur in der Hälfte der Fälle bewusst wahrgenommen werden können (sog. Schwellenstimuli). Wir möchten aufgrund der Gehirn-, Herz- und Atmungsaktivität vorhersagen, ob die Versuchspersonen einen Stimulus wahrnehmen oder nicht. Insbesondere möchten wir zeigen, ob Gehirn und Körper abhängig oder unabhängig voneinander beeinflussen, wie wir unsere Umwelt bewusst wahrnehmen.


Das Ziel des Projektes ist, die funktionale Bedeutung der Gehirnaktivität für das Bewusstsein in einen breiteren Rahmen zu integrieren, indem es sie in Beziehung zu körperlicher Aktivität stellt. Unser Projekt kann eine Antwort auf die Frage liefern, ob Gehirnaktivität allein durch das Gehirn generiert wird, oder ob sie durch körperliche Rhythmen determiniert wird, was zu einem fundamental neuen Verständnis von Gehirnaktivität führt.

Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 07.10.2019

Lay Summary (English)

The brain plays a major role for consciousness and conscious perception. However, the brain as an organ is intricately connected to the rest of the body and surprisingly, bodily rhythms of cardiac and respiratory activity can likewise influence our conscious perception. In this project, we study how brain and body interact in order to become conscious of our environment.
Lay summary

In several experiments, we want to examine how brain and body contribute to our conscious perception. To that aim, we simultaneously measure the electrical brain activity, the cardiac activity and respiration which subjects see stimuli that they can perceive only half of the time (co-called threshold stimuli). We want to predict from the brain, heart and respiratory activity whether or not subjects can perceive a stimulus. In particular, we want to show whether brain and body contribute independently or jointly to conscious awareness.

The aim of the project is to integrate the functional significance of brain activity into a broader perspective by relating it to bodily activity. Our project can provide an answer to the question whether brain activity can still be considered a purely brain-generated or whether it is determined by bodily rhythms, which will yield a fundamentally new view on brain function.

Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 07.10.2019

Responsible applicant and co-applicants


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Project partner


Background and rationale: The brain plays undoubtedly a major role for consciousness. However, the brain is intricately connected with the rest of the body, and the bodily rhythms of heartbeat and respiration as well as the response of the brain to the heartbeat can likewise predict conscious awareness. An unresolved question is to which degree activity from the brain and the body contributes to conscious awareness and whether brain and body exert a joint or an independent influence on conscious awareness. In order to address this issue, activity has to be recorded simultaneously from the brain and body, and their interactions have to be assessed both in task situations manipulating conscious awareness and at rest.Objectives and aims: The present project investigates the mechanisms with which activity from the brain (measured by electroencephalography (EEG)) and the body (measured by electrocardiogram (ECG) and respiration) influence conscious awareness. The main questions are: brain and body exert an independent or joint influence on conscious awareness? they exert this influence only on a trial-to-trial (intra-individual) basis or can they predict inter-individual differences in conscious awareness?3.are such interactions between brain and body also observed at rest when subjects do not perform a task? The aim of this proposal is to understand whether the brain signatures of conscious awareness solely reflect brain activity or whether their variance can be partly explained by other bodily rhythms.Research Plan: To address the interplay between brain and body in conscious awareness I propose three experiments in which we simultaneously record EEG, ECG and respiration in healthy participants. The experiments are organized in in four workpackages (WPs). WP1 &2 assess intra- individual differences for trial-to-trial fluctuations in conscious awareness for stimuli presented at the sensory threshold. WP1 uses simple visual stimuli and WP2 used behaviorally more relevant emotional stimuli. WP3 assesses inter-individual differences for perceptual awareness of stimuli presented above the sensory threshold. WP4 investigates the interaction between EEG activity, ECG activity and respiration recorded in the same subjects at rest and models their interplay.Relevance: We can no longer ignore the importance of bodily activity for conscious awareness and have to provide an integrated view on how the brain and body interact to achieve conscious awareness. The current proposal puts the role of brain activity on awareness in a bigger perspective by relating it to the bodily rhythms of breathing and heartbeat. It will provide an answer to the question whether electrophysiological measures of brain activity are purely generated by the brain or whether part of their variance can be explained by electrophysiological measures of other bodily rhythms, namely cardiac and respiratory activity. Results will have important implications for future studies on the role of brain activity for consciousness by revealing whether bodily rhythms can partly drive and explain brain activity. This implies that bodily rhythms might need to be recorded simultaneously with brain activity and need to be properly accounted for in the analysis of brain activity.