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Eur J Neurosci. 2016 Mar;43(6):792-801. doi: 10.1111/ejn.13173. Epub 2016 Feb 19.

Differential effects of forward and backward masks on the relationship between perception and action.

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Univ. Lille, CNRS, CHU Lille, UMR 9193 - SCALab - Sciences Cognitives et Sciences Affectives, F-59000, Lille, France.


A recent series of experiments has shown that the effects of near-threshold stimuli on perceptual and motor responses are highly dependent on experimental conditions. In particular, motor influences of near-threshold distractors were observed when using low-contrast unmasked stimuli and high-contrast masked stimuli although only the latter affected motor responses in the absence of stimulus awareness. These results are compatible with neurophysiological models of visual masking, suggesting that early neural responses to a visual stimulus can be decomposed in feedforward activations to-and feedback activations from-higher visual areas, correlating respectively with the actual presence of the stimulus and its conscious perception. We tested the compatibility between these neurophysiological models and the behavioural data obtained in near-threshold experiments. We recorded fast reaching movements directed to a highly visible target followed by a report of the presence of a near-threshold distractor presented either at low contrast without mask or at high contrast with a backward or forward mask. Analysis of hand trajectories revealed that deviations toward the distractor were observed in the no-mask condition when the distractor was present and reported, and when it was present but not reported in the backward and forward mask conditions, although the effect was weaker in the latter condition. These data reveal that the presence or absence of perception-action dissociations in behavioural studies are well accounted for by neurophysiological models of visual masking and that behavioural effects of near-threshold distractors cannot result merely from on a dichotomic visual system for perception and action.


action control; behavioural analysis; human; masking; perception; vision

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