Axel Cleeremans

Hi There!



Enjoy these pages, and remember:
"No matter where you go, there you are"

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Biographical sketch


  • 1978     Roadie for Iggy Pop

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Lab & Research


Here is my lab @ ULB — the Consciousness, Cognition & Computation Group.


We mostly work on, well, consciousness, cognition, ... and computation.

The group’s research has always been essentially focused on elucidating the mechanisms that subtend implicit and statistical learning, but its research interests have now broadened substantially to explore the differences between conscious and unconscious processing in domains such as voluntary action and the sense of agency, decision making (including pathological gambling), visual awareness and priming, conditioning and associative learning, skill acquisition, as well as hypnosis, placebo, and suggestion. Additional research lines focus on virtual reality, emotion, cognitive development, cognitive control, and eating behaviour. Some of these research lines take place through the COOL network, which we coordinate.


A second focus is on developing and testing a novel, dynamical theory of consciousness in which learning plays a central role. From this perspective ("The Radical Plasticity" project, funded by the European Research Council), consciousness arises as a result of the brain’s continuous attempts at predicting not only the consequences of action on the world and on other agents, but also the consequences of activity in one cerebral region on activity in other regions. By this account, the brain continuously and unconsciously learns to redescribe its own activity to itself, so developing systems of metarepresentations that characterize and qualify their target representations. To get an overall feel for my perspective on the problem of consciousness, read Consciousness: The Radical Plasticity Thesis and Learning to be conscious and consult this page.

In parallel with exploring the "HOW" of consciousness, a second ERC grant (EXPERIENCE) now leads us to look into the "WHY" of consciousness: What is the function of phenomenal experience? You can follow what we do by following the project's twitter account.


To explore these issues, the team combines the three main methods characteristic of contemporary cognitive neurosciences, namely behavioural, brain imaging, and computational modelling methods. CO3 has developed specific expertise in elaborating detailed neural network models of performance in various domains of cognition, and of designing and testing methods to explore the relationships between conscious and unconscious processing. The group has also recently acquired and installed a baby lab to initiate cognitive research on infants.

The lab's research is funded by different sources, including the ULB Neuroscience Institute, the F.R.S.-FNRS, BELSPO, Innoviris, the Walloon Region, the BIAL Foundation, the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research and the European Research Council. The lab is part of the Fondation ULB's research portfolio. Check out our research on the CRCN website.

This is the 2014-2019, "RADICAL" lab:


This is the 2023-2028, "EXPERIENCE" lab:

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Selected publications


View full list of downloadable publications


In the spotlight

Cleeremans, A., Achoui, D., Beauny, A., Keuninck, L., Martin, J.-R., Muñoz-Moldes, S., Vuillaume, L., & de Heering, A. (2020). Learning to be conscious. Trends in Cognitive Sciences. Preprint


Cleeremans, A. (2014). Connecting conscious and unconscious cognition. Cognitive science, 38(6), 1286-1315. PDF

Timmermans, B., Schilbach, L., Pasquali, A., & Cleeremans, A. (2012). Higher-order thoughts in action: Consciousness as an unconscious redescription process. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 367(1594), 1412-1423. PDF

Cleeremans, A. (2011). The Radical Plasticity Thesis: How the brain learns to be conscious. Frontiers in Psychology, 2, 1-12. PDF

Cleeremans, A. & Jiménez, L. (2002). Implicit learning and consciousness: A graded, dynamic perspective. In French, R.M. & Cleeremans, A. (Eds.), Implicit Learning and Consciousness: An empirical, philosophical and computational consensus in the making (pp. 1-40). Hove: Psychology Press. PDF

Cleeremans, A. (1997). Principles for implicit learning. In D. Berry (Ed.), How implicit is implicit learning? , pp. 195-234. Oxford: OUP. PDF


Timmermans, B., & Cleeremans, A. (2015). How can we measure awareness? An overview of current methods. In M. Overgaard (Ed.), Behavioural Methods in Consciousness Research, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 21-46. PDF

Vermeiren, A., & Cleeremans, A. (2012). The validity of d’ measures. PLoS One, (7)2, e31595. PDF

Sandberg, C., Timmermans, B., Overgaard, M., & Cleeremans, A. (2010). Measuring consciousness: Is one measure better than the other? Consciousness & Cognition, 19, 1069-1078. PDF

Seth, A.K., Dienes, Z., Cleeremans, A., Overgaard, M., & Pessoa, L. (2008). Measuring consciousness: Relating behavioural and neurophysiological approaches. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 12(8), 314-321. PDF


Doyen, S., Klein, O., Pichon, C.-L., & Cleeremans, A. (2012). Behavioural priming: It’s all in the mind, but whose mind? PLoS OnePDF

Waroquier, L., Marchiori, D., Klein, O., & Cleeremans, A. (2010). Is it better to think unconsciously or to trust your first impression? A reassessment of Unconscious Thought Theory. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 1(2), 111-118. PDF


Caspar, E. Christensen, J.F., Cleeremans, A., & Haggard, P. (2016). Coercion changes the sense of agency in the human brain. Current Biology, 26, 1-8. Media coverage

Caspar, E., De Beir, A., Magalhães de Saladanha da Gama, P., Yernaux, F., Cleeremans, A., Vanderborght, B. (2014). New frontiers in the rubber hand experiment: When a robotic hand becomes one’s own. Behaviour Research Methods. PDF

Magalhães de Saladanha da Gama, P., Slama, H., Caspar, E., Gevers, W., & Cleeremans, A. (2013). Placebo-suggestion modulates conflict resolution in the Stroop Task. PLos One 8(10): e75701. PDF

Atas, A., Faivre, N., Timmermans, B., Cleeremans, A. & Kouider, S. (2013). Nonconscious learning from crowded sequences. Psychological Science, 25(1), 113–119. PDF

Windey, B., Gevers, W., & Cleeremans, A. (2013). Subjective visibility depends on level of processing. Cognition, 44(2), 404-409. PDF


Maquet, P., Laureys, S., Peigneux, P., Fuchs, S., Petiaux, C., Phillips, C., Aerts, J., Delfiore, G., Degueldre, C., Meulemans, T., Luxen, A., Franck, G., Van der Linden, M., Smith, C., & Cleeremans, A. (2000). Experience-dependent changes in cerebral activation during human REM sleep, Nature Neuroscience, 3(8), 831-836. PDF

Destrebecqz, A., & Cleeremans, A. (2001). Can sequence learning be implicit? New evidence with the Process Dissociation Procedure, Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 8(2), pp. 343-350. PDF

Cleeremans, A., Destrebecqz, A., & Boyer, M. (1998). Implicit learning: News from the front. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 2, 406-416. PDF

Cleeremans, A. & McClelland, J.L. (1991). Learning the structure of event sequences. Journal of Experimental Psychology : General, 120, 235-253. PDF

Cleeremans, A., Servan-Schreiber, D., & McClelland, J.L. (1989). Finite State Automata and Simple Recurrent Networks. Neural Computation, 1, 372-381. PDF


Cleeremans, A. Hans le Malin: Les sciences cognitives à la croisée des chemins


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Scientific Societies

  • European Society for Cognitive Psychology (ESCoP), President 2009-2011
  • Belgian Association for Psychological Science (BAPS), President 2005-2008
  • National Committee for the Psychological Sciences, Secretary-General
  • Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness (ASSC), President 2019-2021
  • Cognitive Science Society (COGSCI), Member
  • Association for Psychological Science (APS), Fellow
  • Experimental Psychology Society (EPS), Member
  • Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR), Senior Fellow
  • Royal Academy of Belgium, Member


  • I spend a lot of time going to the different meetings these societies organise. I keep all the badges. I am a strange badge.
  • At ASSC19 I got a poster. I hate posters, so I turned mine into an ad for a pirate talk I gave in the hallways. This is not a poster.

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Small Talk


I have spoken in public on many different occasions and in hundreds of different places over the years, from scientific lectures delivered in stately lecture halls to interviews in television studios.

A fraction of these interventions have been recorded and are available on youtube.

My talk "Solving Consciousness" for the 2021 Frontiers Forum has attracted 1M+ views and you can view it too here!

The Royal Academy of Belgium also has a terrific "TV" website containing a substantial collection of audio and video recordings of lectures delivered within its stately walls. I have my own little channel there.



  • The best workshop I ever participated in
  • The best rendition of one of my talks I've ever seen!

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Download Mac OS X application

Download Windows application

View Source Code

This application, built with the excellent Processing and featured on visual, is a demonstration of "Interactive Activation and Competition" neural networks, as first described by J.L. McClelland in the following paper:

McClelland, J.L. (1981). Retrieving general and specific information from stored knowledge of specifics. Proceedings of the Third Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society, 170-172. 

A more complete description of the network is also available in:

Rumelhart, D.E., McClelland, J.L., and the PDP research group (1986).Parallel Distributed Processing Volume 1: Foundations, MIT Press

The model was a landmark illustration of how simple networks of interconnected elements (artificial neurons, so to speak) can be organized so as to form a system that exhibits several crucial properties of human memory.

  • Read more about the model

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Here is a list of all sorts of interesting places on the web:

Good Stuff
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Not really. My philosophy about hobbies is embodied in this Andrew Carnegie quote: 

"My heart is in the work"

I still remember the moment I first saw it engraved on the ceiling of Carnegie Mellon's Baker Hall and breaking out a sweat getting all anxious about finishing the Ph.D. I hadn't started yet. My concept of a vacation is when I am alone in my office while everybody thinks I am on vacation. In light of the above, here is another quote (from Lily Tomlin) I've grown to appreciate: 

"The trouble with the rat race is that even if you win it, you're still a rat"

Other than that, I like zombies, koalasrollercoasters, ferris wheelspsychotronic videos, Octomore, and books.

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The Cabinet of Natural Philosophers


If you made all it the way down here you deserve to know about my collection of photographic portraits of friends and esteemed colleagues,  — my ever-expanding Cabinet of Natural Philosophers. In the spirit of the Victorian-Era fashion for "Cabinets of Natural Curiosities" — elaborate private collections of wonders from the world —, this flickr  set contains pictures of famous and not-so famous scientists and philosophers. Many are friends; most work on consciousness. Enjoy!

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