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Keywords:

  • attention;
  • behaviour consciousness;
  • emotions;
  • limbic system;
  • punishments;
  • rewards;
  • working memory

It is argued that conscious emotional feelings can not be adequately explained by just particular circuits or coherent activations within the brain, as is conventionally believed; nor by activations representing environmental stimuli going to the brain. According to the model suggested herein, the limbic system responds to sensory and other inputs according to how closely they are associated with built-in rewards or punishments. It does this by (a) activating the autonomic nervous system so that it prepares the body to acquire a reward or avoid a punishment, and (b) also activating the prefrontal cortex (PFC). The PFC activations are temporally correlated with the autonomic activations and the feedback to them, so that they become identified with the autonomic attempts to acquire (a reward) or avoid (a punishment). The PFC circuit thus acquires a valence. The valence, along with arousal in a given context, underlies conscious emotional feelings. The model is related to: (a) how attention progresses along networks within working memory; (b) how a single, unified percept is formed; (c) how both value-based and cognitive-based responses are formulated; and (d) how the stream of consciousness is put together and driven forward. These concepts are integrated into a scenario of the orchestration of conscious experience and behaviour by subcortical-limbic system structures interacting with the cortex, and are shown to be consistent with much of the literature.