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Curr Biol. 2013 Jan 21;23(2):150-5. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2012.11.047. Epub 2012 Dec 13.

Cueing attention after the stimulus is gone can retrospectively trigger conscious perception.

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Laboratoire Psychologie de la Perception, UMR 8158, CNRS/Université Paris Descartes, 75006 Paris, France.


Is our perceptual experience of a stimulus entirely determined during the early buildup of the sensory representation, within 100 to 150 ms following stimulation? Or can later influences, such as sensory reactivation, still determine whether we become conscious of a stimulus? Late visual reactivation can be experimentally induced by postcueing attention after visual stimulus offset. In a contrary approach from previous work on postcued attention and visual short-term memory, which used multiple item displays, we tested the influence of postcued attention on perception, using a single visual stimulus (Gabor patch) at threshold contrast. We showed that attracting attention to the stimulus location 100 to 400 ms after presentation still drastically improved the viewers' objective capacity to detect its presence and to discriminate its orientation, along with drastic increase in subjective visibility. This retroperception effect demonstrates that postcued attention can retrospectively trigger the conscious perception of a stimulus that would otherwise have escaped consciousness. It was known that poststimulus events could either suppress consciousness, as in masking, or alter conscious content, as in the flash-lag illusion. Our results show that conscious perception can also be triggered by an external event several hundred ms after stimulus offset, underlining unsuspected temporal flexibility in conscious perception.

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