Consciousness & Metacognition Lab
we are a group of cognitive neuroscientists trying to understand why there's something it is like to be the owner of an awake human brain - i.e. why we have subjective experiences, why we consciously feel anything at all. we are primarily based at UCLA
we do experiments in humans using various kinds of brain imaging and stimulation techniques. we also do a fair bit of quantitative analysis of perception and behavior (i.e. psychophysics), and dabble a bit in philosophy now and then too. we focus on visual awareness - why it feels like something to consciously see; why some perceptual processes in the brain are conscious while others aren't. but we also study spatial attention, neurofeedback, fear, confidence, among other things. below you'll find more details.
Vincent Taschereau-Dumouchel published a paper in Molecular Psychiatry showing that self-reports of fear were better decoded in PFC, while physiological threat responses were better decoded in areas like amygdala
our lab is so called because we believe that perceptual awareness and metacognition are intimately linked. a review of the empirical evidence for this connection is here.
when we say we study conscious perception empirically, many will think of binocular rivalry or masking. but we are worried that their conceptual relevance is often over-emphasized or misunderstood (an older critical essay is here). instead we think we should focus on blindsight and its conceptual variants. we can study this in patients as well as in average college students too (to some limited extent).
becoz of the empirical link between metacognition and consciousness, we also think that figuring out the mechanisms for how one rates confidence based on introspection is useful for understanding consciousness. in collaborations with other labs we have analyzed data from intracranial electrosphyiology (in surgical epileptic patients) and multiunit neuronal recording for this purpose. we also use psychophysics to study confidence and awareness, e.g. this and this.
to understand these mechanisms better in formal terms, we have also done some computational modeling work using signal detection theory (e.g. this and this), & have developed a toolbox and a metric for quantifying metacognition.
anatomically, we think the prefrontal cortex likely contains some of the key relevant mechanisms. there are those who disagree, but we think they are misguided (sorry!).
like many others, we are also interested in the connections between attention and conscious perception. instead of engaging in the debate of whether attention is necessary for consciousness perception, we are interested in the potentially negative relationship between the two. i.e. in the unattended periphery, we don't represent things so well. and yet, there's a sense that we subjectively experience a relatively rich level of vivid details - inflated beyond what is supported by the content of the relevant neural representations. we have provided some preliminary evidence for this 'inflation' account (such as this and this), and continue to work on this phenomenon. see this also.
we have also done some work on understanding the functions of consciousness. like many others we have shown that unconscious processing can be surprisingly powerful. but we are also somewhat skeptical about what these results really mean. a new approach may be needed to address this in the future.
conceptually, although some people thought we treat metacognition and consciousness as the same thing, that is not the case - as we have tried several times to explain in print. we are still trying to figure out the exact connection between the two. in the empirical review mentioned above, we discussed this link in the context of a Kantian philosophical theory known as the higher-order view of consciousnesss. our theory, called perceptual reality monitoring theory, is outlined here.
although we are definitely into theories and philosophy, we are not such big fans of speculative, abstract theories on consciousness that aren't rigorously tested with experiments. we have expressed some of these views here, here, as well as here.
for the field to gain better recognition within academia (rather than in popular media, which we are doing perhaps 'too' well already....), we reckon one useful way forward may be to develop clinical applications. while we think studies of patients in coma are interesting & important, we have not yet done that sort of work because we feel it is difficult to experimentally control things well there. instead, we have been using a relatively novel form of fMRI neurofeedback, to manipulate specific decoded neural representations (such as subjective confidence). with this technique, known as decoded neurofeedback (DecNef), we have been trying to develop a novel treatment method for phobia. currently we are trying to replicate this in patients, in a clinical trial
so, the above is a 'brief' overview of what we do. for a full list of publications, you can check out this (a CV containing a list of all published work), or this google scholar profile (which includes bioRvix preprints too). feel free to email us if you are stuck behind a paywall.
Hakwan Lau is the oldest fixture in the lab. he was born and raised in Hong Kong, went to England for grad school, and was an associate professor at Columbia University in New York before he moved to UCLA where he's now tenured. during 2017-2020 he is based primarily at the University of Hong Kong. he blogs here about his book project and other stuff. this is his CV.
Angela Clague is a phD student from the sociology department, but she works in the lab as a research coordinator. she focuses on some research projects related to anxiety
Vincent Taschereau-Dumouchel is the 'clinical guy' in the lab. with his clinical psychology background, he uses decoded fMRI neuro-reinforcement to make people less afraid of stuff - all happening without the subjects' awareness of the purpose of the procedure (so that all is double-blind placebo-controlled too). currently he's doing some projects with collaborators at McGill
Kiyo Miyoshi is a postdoc in the lab working on mechanisms metacognition, & fake news detection
Taylor Webb is a postdoc in the lab working on neural network models of metacognition and perceptual reality monitoring
Yujia Pang & JD Knotts are postdocs co-advised by Michelle Craske, working on some collaborative projects between the two labs
Cody Cushing is a 3rd year grad student, leading some DecNef experiments
Mouslim Cherkaoui is a 3rd year grad student co-supervised by Jesse Rissman
Raihyung Lee is a 1st year grad student interested in cognitive dissonance, and metacognition of motivation
(one of the persons above is a friendly intruder who has never exactly worked with us... i let you figure out who that may be :-)
Hakwan also co-advises a couple of students at the University of Hong Kong:
Seong Hah Cho is a 3rd year PhD student who has a Master's degree in neurobiology from UCLA. he analysis multiunit neuronal recording data.
Cathie So is a 3rd year PhD student with a background in physics and quantum computing. she is building AI algorithms, and fMRI analytic methods.
and there are those who aren't in the lab as such but work quite closely with us:
Aurelio Cortese is a postdoctoral researcher based at ATR in Mitsuo Kawato's group. he's been collaborating with us since he was a grad student.
and we also have some pretty remarkable alumni:
Brian Odegaard was a postdoc in the lab and is now a faculty member at U of Florida
Megan Peters was a postdoc in the lab and is now a faculty member at UC Irvine
Dobromir Rahnev was a graduate student in the lab when we were at Columbia. he went on to do a postdoc at Mark D'Esposito's lab at UC Berkeley, and is now a faculty member at GeorgiaTech
Guillermo Solovey was a postdoc in the lab and is now a tenured faculty member back in his native Buenos Aires
Ai Koizumi was a postdoc in the lab, and is now working as an independent research group leader at Sony (Tokyo)
Jorge Morales was a philosophy graduate student at Columbia. he did some psychophysics and fMRI experiments with us.
Brian Maniscalco was a student in the the lab when we were at Columbia. he is now a research scientist at Megan Peter's lab at UC Riverside
at this moment we do not have an opening for interns.
for grad applicants: we will accept applications for grad school through both the UCLA Psychology programs & NSIDP, for 2021 Fall - mainly for candidates who are primarily interested in working directly on consciousness, and has sufficient technical background (e.g. computer programming / engineering / stats). this may provide some general advice & useful background. we particularly encourage underrepresented minorities and women to apply. for inquiries please contact firstname.lastname@example.org, who may help you make the decision re: which program to apply to.