The group’s research has always been essentially focused on elucidating the relationships between conscious and unconscious processing during implicit and statistical learning, but its research interests have now broadened to additionally explore differences between conscious and unconscious processing in domains such as free will, voluntary action, and the sense of agency, decision making (including pathological gambling), visual awareness and priming, conditioning and associative learning, skill acquisition, as well as hypnosis, placebo, and suggestion. Additional research lines focus on virtual reality, emotion, and working memory over the life-span.
A second focus is on developing and testing a novel, dynamical theory of consciousness in which learning plays a central role. From this perspective (“The Radical Plasticity” project funded by the European Research Council), consciousness arises as a result of the brain’s continuous attempts at predicting not only the consequences of action on the world and on other agents, but also the consequences of activity in one cerebral region on activity in other regions. By this account, the brain continuously and unconsciously learns to redescribe its own activity to itself, so developing systems of metarepresentations that characterize and qualify their target representations.
To explore these issues, the team combines the three main methods characteristic of contemporary cognitive neurosciences, namely behavioural, brain imaging, and computational modelling methods. CO3 has developed specific expertise in elaborating detailed neural network models of performance in various domains of cognition, and of designing and testing methods to explore the relationships between conscious and unconscious processing. The group has also recently acquired and installed a baby lab (babylab.ulb.ac.be) to initiate cognitive research on infants.
The lab’s research is funded by different sources, including the ULB Neuroscience Institute, the F.R.S.-FNRS, BELSPO, Innoviris, the Walloon Region, the BIAL Foundation, and the European Research Council.