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J Neurosci. 2012 May 30;32(22):7594-601. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0355-12.2012.

Similar effects of feature-based attention on motion perception and pursuit eye movements at different levels of awareness.

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  • 1Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC V5Z 1L8, Canada. mspering@mail.ubc.ca

Abstract

Feature-based attention enhances visual processing and improves perception, even for visual features that we are not aware of. Does feature-based attention also modulate motor behavior in response to visual information that does or does not reach awareness? Here we compare the effect of feature-based attention on motion perception and smooth-pursuit eye movements in response to moving dichoptic plaids--stimuli composed of two orthogonally drifting gratings, presented separately to each eye--in human observers. Monocular adaptation to one grating before the presentation of both gratings renders the adapted grating perceptually weaker than the unadapted grating and decreases the level of awareness. Feature-based attention was directed to either the adapted or the unadapted grating's motion direction or to both (neutral condition). We show that observers were better at detecting a speed change in the attended than the unattended motion direction, indicating that they had successfully attended to one grating. Speed change detection was also better when the change occurred in the unadapted than the adapted grating, indicating that the adapted grating was perceptually weaker. In neutral conditions, perception and pursuit in response to plaid motion were dissociated: While perception followed one grating's motion direction almost exclusively (component motion), the eyes tracked the average of both gratings (pattern motion). In attention conditions, perception and pursuit were shifted toward the attended component. These results suggest that attention affects perception and pursuit similarly even though only the former reflects awareness. The eyes can track an attended feature even if observers do not perceive it.

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