In DepthNeuroscience

An easy consciousness test?

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Science  31 Oct 2014:
Vol. 346, Issue 6209, pp. 531-532
DOI: 10.1126/science.346.6209.531

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After several weeks in a coma, most people either die or transition into a "vegetative state." They may sometimes open their eyes, but they seem unaware of themselves or their surroundings. Recent high-profile studies have shown, however, that many are far from unconscious. Researchers now estimate that roughly 40% of people deemed vegetative are partially or even fully conscious but unable to communicate because of severe damage to brain regions that control movement. This past weekend, more than 100 neuroscientists, neurologists, philosophers, and ethicists crammed into a small New York University auditorium in Greenwich Village in New York City, intent on sparing future patients from being misdiagnosed. Although the initial studies relied on modern, and expensive, brain imaging techniques, many at the meeting agreed that the most practical screening tool could be a century-old technology: the electroencephalography test.