Non-Attended Representations are Perceptual Rather than Unconscious in Nature

PLoS ONE 7 (11) (2012)

Klaudia Ambroziak
University of Nijmegen
Introspectively we experience a phenomenally rich world. In stark contrast, many studies show that we can only report on the few items that we happen to attend to. So what happens to the unattended objects? Are these consciously processed as our first person perspective would have us believe, or are they – in fact – entirely unconscious? Here, we attempt to resolve this question by investigating the perceptual characteristics of visual sensory memory. Sensory memory is a fleeting, high-capacity form of memory that precedes attentional selection and working memory. We found that memory capacity benefits from figural information induced by the Kanizsa illusion. Importantly, this benefit was larger for sensory memory than for working memory and depended critically on the illusion, not on the stimulus configuration. This shows that pre-attentive sensory memory contains representations that have a genuinely perceptual nature, suggesting that non-attended representations are phenomenally experienced rather than unconscious.
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