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Neuropsychologia. 2008 Feb 12;46(3):864-9. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2007.11.036. Epub 2007 Dec 17.

Attended but unseen: visual attention is not sufficient for visual awareness.

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Department of Psychology, University of Durham, South Road, Durham DH1 3LE, UK.


Does any one psychological process give rise to visual awareness? One candidate is selective attention-when we attend to something it seems we always see it. But if attention can selectively enhance our response to an unseen stimulus then attention cannot be a sufficient precondition for awareness. Kentridge, Heywood & Weiskrantz [Kentridge, R. W., Heywood, C. A., & Weiskrantz, L. (1999). Attention without awareness in blindsight. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, Series B, 266, 1805-1811; Kentridge, R. W., Heywood, C. A., & Weiskrantz, L. (2004). Spatial attention speeds discrimination without awareness in blindsight. Neuropsychologia, 42, 831-835.] demonstrated just such a dissociation in the blindsight subject GY. Here, we test whether the dissociation generalizes to the normal population. We presented observers with pairs of coloured discs, each masked by the subsequent presentation of a coloured annulus. The discs acted as primes, speeding discrimination of the colour of the annulus when they matched in colour and slowing it when they differed. We show that the location of attention modulated the size of this priming effect. However, the primes were rendered invisible by metacontrast-masking and remained unseen despite being attended. Visual attention could therefore facilitate processing of an invisible target and cannot, therefore, be a sufficient precondition for visual awareness.

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