Visual awareness is hypothesized to be intimately related to visual working memory (WM), such that information present in WM is thought to have necessarily been represented consciously. Recent work has challenged this longstanding view by demonstrating that visual stimuli rated by observers as unseen can nevertheless be maintained over a delay period. These experiments have been criticized, however, on the basis that subjective awareness ratings may contain response bias (e.g., an observer may report no awareness when in fact they had partial awareness). We mitigated this issue by investigating WM for visual stimuli that were matched for perceptual discrimination capacity (d'), yet which varied in subjective confidence ratings (so-called relative blindsight). If the degree of initial subjective awareness of a stimulus facilitates later maintenance of that information, WM performance should improve for stimuli encoded with higher confidence. In contrast, we found that WM performance did not benefit from higher visual discrimination confidence. This relationship was observed regardless of WM load (1 or 3). Insofar as metacognitive ratings (e.g., confidence, visibility) reflect visual awareness, these results challenge a strong relationship between conscious perception and WM using a paradigm that controls for discrimination accuracy and is less subject to response bias (since confidence is manipulated within subjects). Methodologically, we replicate prior efforts to induce relative blindsight using similar stimulus displays, providing a general framework for isolating metacognitive awareness in order to examine the function of consciousness.
Samaha, J., Barrett, J. J., Sheldon, A. D., LaRocque, J. J., & Postle, B. R. (2016). Dissociating perceptual confidence from discrimination accuracy reveals no influence of metacognitive awareness on working memory. Frontiers in Psychology, 7(JUN). https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00851