Overt visual attention as a causal factor of perceptual awareness

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Our everyday conscious experience of the visual world is fundamentally shaped by the interaction of overt visual attention and object awareness. Although the principal impact of both components is undisputed, it is still unclear how they interact. Here we recorded eye-movements preceding and following conscious object recognition, collected during the free inspection of ambiguous and corresponding unambiguous stimuli. Using this paradigm, we demonstrate that fixations recorded prior to object awareness predict the later recognized object identity, and that subjects accumulate more evidence that is consistent with their later percept than for the alternative. The timing of reached awareness was verified by a reaction-time based correction method and also based on changes in pupil dilation. Control experiments, in which we manipulated the initial locus of visual attention, confirm a causal influence of overt attention on the subsequent result of object perception. The current study thus demonstrates that distinct patterns of overt attentional selection precede object awareness and thereby directly builds on recent electrophysiological findings suggesting two distinct neuronal mechanisms underlying the two phenomena. Our results emphasize the crucial importance of overt visual attention in the formation of our conscious experience of the visual world.




Kietzmann, T. C., Geuter, S., & König, P. (2011). Overt visual attention as a causal factor of perceptual awareness. PLoS ONE, 6(7). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0022614

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