Recent accounts on the global workspace theory suggest that consciousness involves transient formations of functional connections in thalamo-cortico- cortical networks. The level of connectivity in these networks is argued to determine the state of consciousness. Emotions are suggested to play a role in shaping consciousness, but their involvement in the global workspace theory remains elusive. In the present study, the role of emotion in the neural workspace theory of consciousness was scrutinized by investigating, whether unconscious (masked) and conscious (unmasked) display of emotional compared to neutral facial expressions would differentially modulate EEG coherence. EEG coherence was measured by means of computing an average EEG coherence value between the frontal, parietal, and midline scalp sites. Objective awareness checks evidenced that conscious identification of the masked facial expressions was precluded. Analyses revealed reductions in EEG coherence in the lower frequency range for the masked as compared to unmasked neutral facial expressions. Crucially, a decline in EEG coherence was not observed for the emotional facial expressions. In other words, the level of EEG coherence did apparently vary as a function of awareness, but not when emotion was involved. The current finding suggests that EEG coherence is modulated by unconscious emotional processes, which extends common views on the global workspace architecture of consciousness. © 2004 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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