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Consciousness has been proposed to play a key role in shaping flexible learning and as such is thought to confer an evolutionary advantage. Attention and awareness are the perhaps most important underlying processes, yet their precise relationship is presently unclear. Both of these processes must, however, serve the evolutionary imperatives of survival and procreation. They are thus intimately bound by reward and emotion to help to prioritize efficient brain resource allocation in order to predict and optimize behavior. Here we show how this process is served by a paralimbic network consisting primarily of regions located on the midline of the human brain. Using many different techniques, experiments have demonstrated that this network is effective and specific for self-awareness and contributes to the sense of unity of consciousness by acting as a common neural path for a wide variety of conscious experiences. Interestingly, hemodynamic activity in the network decreases with focusing on external stimuli, which has led to the idea of a default mode network. This network is one of many networks that wax and vane as resources are allocated to accommodate the different cyclical needs of the organism primarily related to the fundamental pleasures afforded by evolution: food, sex, and conspecifics. Here we hypothesize, however, that the paralimbic network serves a crucial role in balancing and regulating brain resource allocation, and discuss how it can be thought of as a link between current theories of so-called "default mode," "resting state networks," and "global workspace." We show how major developmental disorders of self-awareness and self-control can arise from problems in the paralimbic network as demonstrated here by the example of Asperger syndrome. We conclude that attention, awareness, and emotion are integrated by a paralimbic network that helps to efficiently allocate brain resources to optimize behavior and help survival.

Original publication

DOI

10.3389/fpsyg.2011.00366

Type

Journal article

Journal

Front Psychol

Publication Date

2011

Volume

2

Keywords

attention, cingulate cortex, consciousness, orbitofrontal cortex, paralimbic network, pleasure, precuneus, reward