Hide and seek: Directing top-down attention is not sufficient for accelerating conscious access
Number of pages
SourceCortex, 122, (2020), pp. 235-252
Article / Letter to editor
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SW OZ DCC SMN
SubjectAction, intention, and motor control
At any moment in time, we have a single conscious visual experience representing a minute part of our visual world. As such, the visual input stimulating our retinae is in continuous competition for reaching conscious access. Many complex cognitive operations can only be applied to consciously accessible visual information, thereby raising the question whether humans have the ability to select which parts of their visual input reaches consciousness. Top-down attention allows humans to flexibly assign more processing resources to certain parts of our visual input, making it a likely mechanism to volitionally bias conscious access. Here, we investigated whether directing top-down attention to a particular location or feature accelerates conscious access of an initially suppressed visual stimulus at the attended location, or of the attended feature. We instructed participants to attend a spatial location (Experiment 1) or color (Experiment 2) for a speeded discrimination task, using a highly predictive cue. The predictive cues were highly effective in prompting sustained attention towards the cued location or color, as evidenced by faster discrimination of cued relative to uncued targets. We simultaneously measured detection times to interocularly suppressed probes that were either of the cued (i.e., attended) color/location or not, and were visually distinct from the targets used for the discrimination task. Despite our successful manipulation of top-down attention, suppressed probes were not released from suppression faster when they were presented at the attended location, or in the attended color. In contrast, when observers were cued to attend a color for locating targets of an ill-defined shape (inciting a broader attentional template), we did observe faster conscious access of probes in the attended color (Experiment 3). We discuss our findings in light of the specificity of attentional templates, and the inherent limitations that this poses for top-down attentional biases on conscious access.
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