Consciousness is an elusive concept. French philosopher and scientist, Rene Descartes once said, “Je pense, donc je suis” - roughly translated to “I think, therefore I am.” This statement stood to prove that our own self-doubt about our conscious existence is proof that we do exist (as we could not have thoughts if we didn’t). In more recent history, scientists view consciousness as an extension of our ability to focus and concentrate. In fact, in a lot of scientific literature, attention often acts as a stand-in for consciousness. As you can imagine, our ability to attend to our surroundings is an incredibly important skill, and often seen as the basis for human consciousness. Today, we are going to break down the attentional networks of the brain.
Cognitive neuropsychologists have outlined 2 separate forms of attention, endogenous and exogenous attention. Endogenous or “goal-directed” attention is driven by your own internal goals. For example, if you were trying to pick out Waldo in a “Where’s Waldo?” picture. Exogenous or “saliency-directed” attention involves salient features of your environment drawing your attention. An example would be if you were looking out over the ocean, and movement in the water drew your attention to a jumping dolphin (MacLean et al., 2009).
Based on modern neuroimaging studies, scientists have discovered differing brain networks involved in each type of attention. Endogenous attention elicits activation dorsal fronto-parietal brain regions while exogenous attention elicits activation of ventral fronto-parietal brain regions. However, both interface and recruit each other regularly (Macaluso & Doricchi, 2013).
By developing a better understanding of how our attentional systems work, scientists have made significant advances in therapeutic techniques for individuals suffering from diseases that affect the attentional networks of the brain (Fernandez-Duque & Posner, 2001).