Conscious Processing and the Global Neuronal Workspace Hypothesis

George A. Mashour, Pieter Roelfsema, Jean Pierre Changeux*, Stanislas Dehaene

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalReview articleAcademicpeer-review


We review the central tenets and neuroanatomical basis of the global neuronal workspace (GNW) hypothesis, which attempts to account for the main scientific observations regarding the elementary mechanisms of conscious processing in the human brain. The GNW hypothesis proposes that, in the conscious state, a non-linear network ignition associated with recurrent processing amplifies and sustains a neural representation, allowing the corresponding information to be globally accessed by local processors. We examine this hypothesis in light of recent data that contrast brain activity evoked by either conscious or non-conscious contents, as well as during conscious or non-conscious states, particularly general anesthesia. We also discuss the relationship between the intertwined concepts of conscious processing, attention, and working memory. Mashour et al. review more than two decades of research on the global neuronal workspace theory of conscious processing; examine recent data related to unconscious states; and present a synthesis that links conscious access, attention, and working memory.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)776-798
Number of pages23
Issue number5
Early online date4 Mar 2020
Publication statusPublished - 4 Mar 2020


The research was supported by the National Institutes of Health (Bethesda, Maryland, USA) grant R01GM098578 and R01GM111293 (to G.A.M.) and the European Union ’s Horizon 2020 Human Brain Project SGA2 (CDP6, Modeling Drug Discovery) (to J.-P.C.).

FundersFunder number
European Union ’s Horizon 2020
National Institutes of HealthR01GM111293
National Institute of General Medical SciencesR01GM098578
Horizon 2020


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