Is “Self-Consciousness” Equivalent to “Executive Function”?

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Abstract

Consciousness can be understood as being aware of oneself and one’s own conditions. The cognitive neuroscience concept of “executive function” usually includes the ability to control attention, mental flexibility, awareness, goal-directed behaviors, and the ability to anticipate the consequences of one’s own behavior. Executive function is directly associated with prefrontal cortex activity. Two types of executive function that are associated with 2 different subtypes of prefrontal pathology can be distinguished: (a) “metacognitive executive function” (dorsolateral prefrontal cortex), including self-awareness, the temporality of behavior, metacognition, working memory, abstraction, problem solving, and similar complex intellectual processes, and (b) “emotional/motivational executive function” (orbitofrontal and medial frontal lobe), which is related to the ability to coordinate cognition and motivation, including the ability to control emotions and behavior. Self-consciousness represents a major element of metacognitive executive function and is directly related to activity of the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex.

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