Visual processing: conscious until proven otherwise.
ABSTRACT: Unconscious perception, or perception without awareness, describes a situation where an observer's behaviour is influenced by a stimulus of which they have no phenomenal awareness. Perception without awareness is often claimed on the basis of a difference in thresholds for tasks that do and do not require awareness, for example, detecting the stimulus (requiring awareness) and making accurate judgements about the stimulus (based on unconscious processing). Although a difference in thresholds would be expected if perceptual evidence were processed without awareness, such a difference does not necessitate that this is actually occurring: a difference in thresholds can also arise from response bias, or through task differences. Here we ask instead whether the pattern of performance could be obtained if the observer were aware of the evidence used in making their decisions. A backwards masking paradigm was designed using digits as target stimuli, with difficulty controlled by the time between target and mask. Performance was measured over three tasks: detection, graphic discrimination and semantic discrimination. Despite finding significant differences in thresholds measured using proportion correct, and in observer sensitivity, modelling suggests that these differences were not the result of perception without awareness. That is, the observer was not relying solely on unconscious information to make decisions.
Project description:Many believe that humans can 'perceive unconsciously' - that for weak stimuli, briefly presented and masked, above-chance discrimination is possible without awareness. Interestingly, an online survey reveals that most experts in the field recognize the lack of convincing evidence for this phenomenon, and yet they persist in this belief. Using a recently developed bias-free experimental procedure for measuring subjective introspection (confidence), we found no evidence for unconscious perception; participants' behavior matched that of a Bayesian ideal observer, even though the stimuli were visually masked. This surprising finding suggests that the thresholds for subjective awareness and objective discrimination are effectively the same: if objective task performance is above chance, there is likely conscious experience. These findings shed new light on decades-old methodological issues regarding what it takes to consider a neurobiological or behavioral effect to be 'unconscious,' and provide a platform for rigorously investigating unconscious perception in future studies.
Project description:Stimuli can be rendered invisible using a variety of methods and the method selected to demonstrate unconscious processing in a given study often appears to be arbitrary. Here, we compared unconscious processing under continuous flash suppression (CFS) and meta-contrast masking, using similar stimuli, tasks and measures. Participants were presented with a prime arrow followed by a target arrow. They made a speeded response to the target arrow direction and then reported on the prime's visibility. Perception of the prime was made liminal using either meta-contrast masking (Experiment 1) or CFS (Experiments 2 and 3). Conscious perception of the prime was assessed using a sensitive visibility scale ranging from 0 to 3 and unconscious processing was measured as the priming effect on target discrimination performance of prime-target direction congruency when prime visibility was null. Crucially, in order to ensure that the critical stimuli were equally distant from the limen of consciousness, we sought stimulus and temporal parameters for which the proportion of 0-visibility trials was comparable for the two methods. We found that the method used to prevent conscious perception matters: unconscious processing was substantial with meta-contrast masking but absent with CFS. These findings suggest that CFS allows very little perceptual processing, if at all, and that previous reports of high-level and complex unconscious processing during CFS may result from partial awareness.
Project description:Accurate motion perception of self and object speed is crucial for successful interaction in the world. The context in which we make such speed judgments has a profound effect on their accuracy. Misperceptions of motion speed caused by the context can have drastic consequences in real world situations, but they also reveal much about the underlying mechanisms of motion perception. Here we show that motion signals suppressed from awareness can warp simultaneous conscious speed perception. In Experiment 1, we measured global speed discrimination thresholds using an annulus of 8 local Gabor elements. We show that physically removing local elements from the array attenuated global speed discrimination. However, removing awareness of the local elements only had a small effect on speed discrimination. That is, unconscious local motion elements contributed to global conscious speed perception. In Experiment 2 we measured the global speed of the moving Gabor patterns, when half the elements moved at different speeds. We show that global speed averaging occurred regardless of whether local elements were removed from awareness, such that the speed of invisible elements continued to be averaged together with the visible elements to determine the global speed. These data suggest that contextual motion signals outside of awareness can both boost and affect our experience of motion speed, and suggest that such pooling of motion signals occurs before the conscious extraction of the surround motion speed.
Project description:Despite extensive research, the very existence of unconscious learning in humans remains much debated. Skepticism arises chiefly from the difficulty in assessing the level of awareness of the complex associations learned in classical implicit learning paradigms. Here, we show that simple associations between colors and motion directions can be learned unconsciously. In each trial, participants had to report the motion direction of a patch of colored dots but unbeknownst to the participants, two out of the three possible colors were always associated with a given direction/response, while one was uninformative. We confirm the lack of awareness by using several tasks, fulfilling the most stringent criteria. In addition, we show the crucial role of trial-by-trial feedback, and that both the stimulus-response (motor) and stimulus-stimulus (perceptual) associations were learned. In conclusion, we demonstrate that simple associations between supraliminal stimulus features can be learned unconsciously, providing a novel framework to study unconscious learning.
Project description:The ability to distinguish self-generated stimuli from those caused by external sources is critical for all behaving organisms. Although many studies point to a sensory attenuation of self-generated stimuli, recent evidence suggests that motor actions can result in either attenuated or enhanced perceptual processing depending on the environmental context (i.e., stimulus intensity). The present study employed 2-AFC sound detection and loudness discrimination tasks to test whether sound source (self- or externally-generated) and stimulus intensity (supra- or near-threshold) interactively modulate detection ability and loudness perception. Self-generation did not affect detection and discrimination sensitivity (i.e., detection thresholds and Just Noticeable Difference, respectively). However, in the discrimination task, we observed a significant interaction between self-generation and intensity on perceptual bias (i.e. Point of Subjective Equality). Supra-threshold self-generated sounds were perceived softer than externally-generated ones, while at near-threshold intensities self-generated sounds were perceived louder than externally-generated ones. Our findings provide empirical support to recent theories on how predictions and signal intensity modulate perceptual processing, pointing to interactive effects of intensity and self-generation that seem to be driven by a biased estimate of perceived loudness, rather by changes in detection and discrimination sensitivity.
Project description:Reliable duration perception of external events is necessary to coordinate perception with action, precisely discriminate speech, and for other daily functions. Visual duration perception can be heavily influenced by concurrent auditory signals; however, age-related effects on this process have received minimal attention. In the present study, we examined the effect of aging on duration perception by quantifying (1) duration discrimination thresholds, (2) auditory temporal dominance, and (3) visual duration expansion/compression percepts induced by an accompanying auditory stimulus of longer/shorter duration. Duration discrimination thresholds were significantly greater for visual than auditory tasks in both age groups, however there was no effect of age. While the auditory modality retained dominance in duration perception with age, older adults still performed worse than young adults when comparing durations of two target stimuli (e.g., visual) in the presence of distractors from the other modality (e.g., auditory). Finally, both age groups perceived similar visual duration compression, whereas older adults exhibited visual duration expansion over a wider range of auditory durations compared to their younger counterparts. Results are discussed in terms of multisensory integration and possible decision strategies that change with age.
Project description:Continuous flash suppression (CFS) has become a popular tool for studying unconscious processing, but the level at which unconscious processing of visual stimuli occurs under CFS is not clear. Response priming is a robust and well-understood phenomenon, in which the prime stimulus facilitates overt responses to targets if the prime and target are associated with the same response. We used CFS to study unconscious response priming of shape: arrows with left or right orientation served as primes and targets. The prime was presented near the limen of consciousness and each trial was followed by subjective rating of visibility and a forced-choice response concerning the orientation of the prime in counterbalanced order. In trials without any reported awareness of the presence of the prime, discrimination of the prime's orientation was at chance level. However, priming was elicited in such unconscious trials. Unconscious priming was not influenced by the prime-target onset-asynchrony (SOA)/prime duration, whereas conscious processing, as indicated by the enhanced discriminability of the prime's orientation and conscious priming, increased at the longest SOAs/prime durations. These results show that conscious and unconscious processes can be dissociated with CFS and that CFS-masking does not completely suppress unconscious visual processing of shape.
Project description:Some researchers have argued that normal human observers can exhibit "blindsight-like" behavior: the ability to discriminate or identify a stimulus without being aware of it. However, we recently used a bias-free task to show that what looks like blindsight may in fact be an artifact of typical experimental paradigms' susceptibility to response bias. While those findings challenge previous reports of blindsight in normal observers, they do not rule out the possibility that different stimuli or techniques could still reveal perception without awareness. One intriguing candidate is emotion processing, since processing of emotional stimuli (e.g. fearful/happy faces) has been reported to potentially bypass conscious visual circuits. Here we used the bias-free blindsight paradigm to investigate whether emotion processing might reveal "featural blindsight," i.e. ability to identify a face's emotion without introspective access to the task-relevant features that led to the discrimination decision. However, we saw no evidence for emotion processing "featural blindsight": as before, whenever participants could identify a face's emotion they displayed introspective access to the task-relevant features, matching predictions of a Bayesian ideal observer. These results add to the growing body of evidence that perceptual discrimination ability without introspective access may not be possible for neurologically intact observers.
Project description:Sensory processing necessitates discarding some information in service of preserving and reformatting more behaviorally relevant information. Sensory neurons seem to achieve this by responding selectively to particular combinations of features in their inputs, while averaging over or ignoring irrelevant combinations. Here, we expose the perceptual implications of this tradeoff between selectivity and invariance, using stimuli and tasks that explicitly reveal their opposing effects on discrimination performance. We generate texture stimuli with statistics derived from natural photographs, and ask observers to perform two different tasks: Discrimination between images drawn from families with different statistics, and discrimination between image samples with identical statistics. For both tasks, the performance of an ideal observer improves with stimulus size. In contrast, humans become better at family discrimination but worse at sample discrimination. We demonstrate through simulations that these behaviors arise naturally in an observer model that relies on a common set of physiologically plausible local statistical measurements for both tasks.
Project description:BACKGROUND:The Fremantle Back Awareness Questionnaire (FreBAQ) claims to assess disrupted self-perception of the back. The aim of this study was to develop a German version of the FreBAQ (FreBAQ-G) and assess its test-retest reliability, its known-groups validity and its convergent validity with another purported measure of back perception. METHODS:The FreBaQ-G was translated following international guidelines for the transcultural adaptation of questionnaires. Thirty-five patients with non-specific CLBP and 48 healthy participants were recruited. Assessor one administered the FreBAQ-G to each patient with CLBP on two separate days to quantify intra-observer reliability. Assessor two administered the FreBaQ-G to each patient on day 1. The scores were compared to those obtained by assessor one on day 1 to assess inter-observer reliability. Known-groups validity was quantified by comparing the FreBAQ-G score between patients and healthy controls. To assess convergent validity, patient's FreBAQ-G scores were correlated to their two-point discrimination (TPD) scores. RESULTS:Intra- and Inter-observer reliability were both moderate with ICC3.1 = 0.88 (95%CI: 0.77 to 0.94) and 0.89 (95%CI: 0.79 to 0.94), respectively. Intra- and inter-observer limits of agreement (LoA) were 6.2 (95%CI: 5.0-8.1) and 6.0 (4.8-7.8), respectively. The adjusted mean difference between patients and controls was 5.4 (95%CI: 3.0 to 7.8, p<0.01). Patient's FreBAQ-G scores were not associated with TPD thresholds (Pearson's r = -0.05, p = 0.79). CONCLUSIONS:The FreBAQ-G demonstrated a degree of reliability and known-groups validity. Interpretation of patient level data should be performed with caution because the LoA were substantial. It did not demonstrate convergent validity against TPD. Floor effects of some items of the FreBAQ-G may have influenced the validity and reliability results. The clinimetric properties of the FreBAQ-G require further investigation as a simple measure of disrupted self-perception of the back before firm recommendations on its use can be made.