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J Vis. 2008 May 19;8(5):7.1-10. doi: 10.1167/8.5.7.

Spatial attention increases performance but not subjective confidence in a discrimination task.

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Division of Biology, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA 91125, USA.


Selective attention to a target yields faster and more accurate responses. Faster response times, in turn, are usually associated with increased subjective confidence. Could the decrease in reaction time in the presence of attention therefore simply reflect a shift toward more confident responses? We here addressed the extent to which attention modulates accuracy, processing speed, and confidence independently. To probe the effect of spatial attention on performance, we used two attentional manipulations of a visual orientation discrimination task. We demonstrate that spatial attention significantly increases accuracy, whereas subjective confidence measures reveal overconfidence in non-attended stimuli. At constant confidence levels, reaction times showed a significant decrease (by 15-49%, corresponding to 100-250 ms). This dissociation of objective performance and subjective confidence suggests that attention and awareness, as measured by confidence, are distinct, albeit related, phenomena.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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