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See Inside April/May 2007

Put Your Money Where Your Mind Is

We do not notice many tasks that our brains perform, whereas we are completely aware of others. But it is sometimes hard for neuroscientists to determine when we are conscious of our actions. Now a group of British researchers is betting that betting can be used to study consciousness.

Navindra Persaud, Peter McLeod and Alan Cowey of the University of Oxford were interested in situations in which people can show high levels of cognitive performance with no apparent awareness. In one experiment, they studied a person known as GY, who, because of damage to his visual cortex, reports no vision in his right eye. But GY has a strange ability known as blindsight: he can guess with reasonable accuracy whether or not a symbol is shown to that eye, even though he reports no awareness of seeing it. The question has remained whether at some level he is conscious of his performance.

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