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Conscious Cogn. 2009 Sep;18(3):569-77. doi: 10.1016/j.concog.2009.03.002. Epub 2009 Apr 14.

Perceptual illusions in brief visual presentations.

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Laboratoire de Sciences Cognitives et Psycholinguistique, CNRS/EHESS/DEC-ENS, Paris, France.


We often feel that our perceptual experience is richer than what we can express. For instance, when flashed with a large set of letters, we feel that we can see them all, while we can report only a few. However, the nature of this subjective impression remains highly debated: while many favour a dissociation between two forms of consciousness (access vs. phenomenal consciousness), others contend that the richness of phenomenal experience is a mere illusion. Here we addressed this question with a classical partial-report paradigm now modified to include unexpected items in the unreported parts of the stimuli. We show that even in the presence of unexpected pseudo-letters, participants still felt that there were only letters. Additionally, we show that this feeling reflects an illusion whereby participants reconstruct letters using partial letter-like information. We propose that the feeling of seeing emerges from the interplay between partially accessible information and expectations.

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