An Integrative Control Theory Perspective on Consciousness

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An integrative account of consciousness should have a number of properties. It should build upon a framework of non-conscious behavior in order to explain how and why consciousness contributes to, and addresses the limitations of, non-conscious processes. It should also encompass the primary (phenomenal), secondary (access) and tertiary (self-awareness) aspects of consciousness. A number of accounts have proposed a role for consciousness in the prediction of sensory input, yet these proposals do not address how organisms deal with multiple, unpredictable, disturbances to maintain control. According to Perceptual Control Theory (PCT), purposiveness is the control of hierarchically organized perceptual variables via changes in output that counteract disturbances which would otherwise increase error between the current value and the reference value (goal state) of each perceptual variable. In PCT, reorganization is the process required for the adaptive modification of control systems in order to reduce the error in intrinsic systems that control essential, largely physiological, variables. The current article proposes that primary consciousness emerges from this system, and is sustained as secondary consciousness through a number of processes including the control of the integration rate of novel information via exploratory behavior, attention, imagination, and altering the mutation rate of reorganization. Tertiary consciousness arises when internally sustained perceptual information is associated with specific symbols that form a parallel, propositional system for the use of language, logic, and other symbolic systems. The hypotheses and initial research designs to test this account are provided.
Original languageEnglish
JournalPsychological Review
Publication statusPublished - 4 Jul 2022


  • consciousness
  • awareness
  • self-regulation
  • cybernetics
  • prediction


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