Recent brain imaging studies have revealed that increased neural activity along the ventral visual stream and parietal and frontal areas is associated with visual awareness. In order to study the time-course and temporal aspects of awareness, we examined electrophysiological correlates of conscious vision in two masking experiments. The differences in event-related potentials (ERPs) between unmasked (consciously recognized) and masked (unrecognized) stimuli were considered to be electrophysiological correlates of awareness. Two attentional conditions (global, local) were included to examine the relationship between the scope of attention and awareness. Two ERP-deflections were found to correlate with awareness. First, awareness was associated with a posterior negative amplitude shift 130-320 ms after the stimulus. This effect was present in both attention conditions, suggesting that it emerges independent of the scope of attention. Second, ERPs to unmasked stimuli became more positive as compared with masked stimuli around 400 ms, peaking at parietal sites. This effect was attenuated in the local attention condition, although the participants were aware of the stimuli, suggesting that the late positivity does not directly correlate with visual awareness. The results imply that the earlier negativity is the earliest and most direct correlate of visual awareness.
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