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Volume 7 Issue 2 (2011)

Special issue: Neuro-cognitive mechanisms of conscious and unconscious visual perception, Part I and II Editors: Markus Kiefer, Michael Niedeggen, John-Dylan Haynes

Neuro-cognitive mechanisms of conscious and unconscious visual perception: From a plethora of phenomena to general principles original article

pp. 55-67 | First published on 31 December 2011 | DOI:10.2478/v10053-008-0090-4

Markus Kiefer, Ulrich Ansorge, John-Dylan Haynes, Fred Hamker, Uwe Mattler, Rolf Verleger, Michael Niedeggen


Psychological and neuroscience approaches have promoted much progress in elucidating the cognitive and neural mechanisms that underlie phenomenal visual awareness during the last decades. In this article, we provide an overview of the latest research investigating important phenomena in conscious and unconscious vision. We identify general principles to characterize conscious and unconscious visual perception, which may serve as important building blocks for a unified model to explain the plethora of findings. We argue that in particular the integration of principles from both conscious and unconscious vision is advantageous and provides critical constraints for developing adequate theoretical models. Based on the principles identified in our review, we outline essential components of a unified model of conscious and unconscious visual perception. We propose that awareness refers to consolidated visual representations, which are accessible to the entire brain and therefore globally available. However, visual awareness not only depends on consolidation within the visual system, but is additionally the result of a post-sensory gating process, which is mediated by higher-level cognitive control mechanisms. We further propose that amplification of visual representations by attentional sensitization is not exclusive to the domain of conscious perception, but also applies to visual stimuli, which remain unconscious. Conscious and unconscious processing modes are highly interdependent with influences in both directions. We therefore argue that exactly this interdependence renders a unified model of conscious and unconscious visual perception valuable. Computational modeling jointly with focused experimental research could lead to a better understanding of the plethora of empirical phenomena in consciousness research.

Keywords: consciousness, visual awareness, unconscious cognition, subliminal perception, attention

Roles of contour and surface processing in microgenesis of object perception and visual consciousness original article

pp. 68-81 | First published on 31 December 2011 | DOI:10.2478/v10053-008-0088-y

Bruno G. Breitmeyer, Evelina Tapia


Developments in visual neuroscience and neural-network modeling indicate the existence of separate pathways for the processing of form and surface attributes of a visual object. In line with prior theoretical proposals, it is assumed that the processing of form can be explicit or conscious only as or after the surface property such as color is filled in. In conjunction with extant psychophysical findings, these developments point to interesting distinctions between nonconscious and conscious processing of these attributes, specifically in relation to distinguishable temporal dynamics. At nonconscious levels form processing proceeds faster than surface processing, whereas in contrast, at conscious levels form processing proceeds slower than surface processing. Implications of separate form and surface processing for current and future psychophysical and neuroscientific research, particularly that relating cortical oscillations to conjunctions of surface and form features, and for cognitive science and philosophy of mind and consciousness are discussed.

Keywords: conscious visual processing, contour, nonconscious visual processing, surface color, surface contrast, temporal dynamics

Follow the sign! Top-down contingent attentional capture of masked arrow cues original article

pp. 82-91 | First published on 31 December 2011 | DOI:10.2478/v10053-008-0091-3

Heiko Reuss, Carsten Pohl, Andrea Kiesel, Wilfried Kunde


Arrow cues and other overlearned spatial symbols automatically orient attention according to their spatial meaning. This renders them similar to exogenous cues that occur at stimulus location. Exogenous cues trigger shifts of attention even when they are presented subliminally. Here, we investigate to what extent the mechanisms underlying the orienting of attention by exogenous cues and by arrow cues are comparable by analyzing the effects of visible and masked arrow cues on attention. In Experiment 1, we presented arrow cues with overall 50% validity. Visible cues, but not masked cues, lead to shifts of attention. In Experiment 2, the arrow cues had an overall validity of 80%. Now both visible and masked arrows lead to shifts of attention. This is in line with findings that subliminal exogenous cues capture attention only in a top-down contingent manner, that is, when the cues fit the observer?s intentions.

Keywords: attention, arrow cues, spatial cuing, masked priming, contingent capture

Good vibrations, bad vibrations: Oscillatory brain activity in the attentional blink original article

pp. 92-107 | First published on 31 December 2011 | DOI:10.2478/v10053-008-0089-x

Jolanda Janson, Cornelia Kranczioch


The attentional blink (AB) is a deficit in reporting the second (T2) of two targets (T1, T2) when presented in close temporal succession and within a stream of distractor stimuli. The AB has received a great deal of attention in the past two decades because it allows to study the mechanisms that influence the rate and depth of information processing in various setups and therefore provides an elegant way to study correlates of conscious perception in supra-threshold stimuli. Recently evidence has accumulated suggesting that oscillatory signals play a significant role in temporally coordinating information between brain areas. This review focuses on studies looking into oscillatory brain activity in the AB. The results of these studies indicate that the AB is related to modulations in oscillatory brain activity in the theta, alpha, beta, and gamma frequency bands. These modulations are sometimes restricted to a circumscribed brain area but more frequently include several brain regions. They occur before targets are presented as well as after the presentation of the targets. We will argue that the complexity of the findings supports the idea that the AB is not the result of a processing impairment in one particular process or brain area, but the consequence of a dynamic interplay between several processes and/or parts of a neural network.

Keywords: oscillatory brain activity, attentional blink, EEG , review, visual attention

Top-down contingent feature-specific orienting with and without awareness of the visual input original article

pp. 108-119 | First published on 31 December 2011 | DOI:10.2478/v10053-008-0087-z

Ulrich Ansorge, Gernot Horstmann, Ingrid Scharlau


In the present article, the role of endogenous feature-specific orienting for conscious and unconscious vision is reviewed. We start with an overview of orienting. We proceed with a review of masking research, and the definition of the criteria of experimental protocols that demonstrate endogenous and exogenous orienting, respectively. Against this background of criteria, we assess studies of unconscious orienting and come to the conclusion that so far studies of unconscious orienting demonstrated endogenous feature-specific orienting. The review closes with a discussion of the role of unconscious orienting in action control.

Keywords: vision, masking, attention, top-down contingent capture

Dos and don'ts in response priming research original article

pp. 120-131 | First published on 31 December 2011 | DOI:10.2478/v10053-008-0092-2

Filipp Schmidt, Anke Haberkamp, Thomas Schmidt


Response priming is a well-understood but sparsely employed paradigm in cognitive science. The method is powerful and well-suited for exploring early visuomotor processing in a wide range of tasks and research fields. Moreover, response priming can be dissociated from visual awareness, possibly because it is based on the first sweep of feedforward processing of primes and targets. This makes it a theoretically interesting device for separating conscious and unconscious vision. We discuss the major opportunities of the paradigm and give specific recommendations (e.g., tracing the time-course of priming in parametric experiments). Also, we point out typical confounds, design flaws, and data processing artifacts.

Keywords: response priming, unconscious perception, research methods

The effects of spatial and temporal cueing on metacontrast masking original article

pp. 132-141 | First published on 31 December 2011 | DOI:10.2478/v10053-008-0093-1

Maximilian Bruchmann, Philipp Hintze, Simon Mota


We studied the effects of selective attention on metacontrast masking with 3 different cueing experiments. Experiments 1 and 2 compared central symbolic and peripheral spatial cues. For symbolic cues, we observed small attentional costs, that is, reduced visibility when the target appeared at an unexpected location, and attentional costs as well as benefits for peripheral cues. All these effects occurred exclusively at the late, ascending branch of the U-shaped metacontrast masking function, although the possibility exists that cueing effects at the early branch were obscured by a ceiling effect due to almost perfect visibility at short stimulus onset asynchronies (SOAs). In Experiment 3, we presented temporal cues that indicated when the target was likely to appear, not where. Here, we also observed cueing effects in the form of higher visibility when the target appeared at the expected point in time compared to when it appeared too early. However, these effects were not restricted to the late branch of the masking function, but enhanced visibility over the complete range of the masking function. Given these results we discuss a common effect for different types of spatial selective attention on metacontrast masking involving neural subsystems that are different from those involved in temporal attention.

Keywords: visual masking, metacontrast, spatial cueing, temporal cueing

Cognitive and affective judgements of syncopated musical themes original article

pp. 142-156 | First published on 31 December 2011 | DOI:10.2478/v10053-008-0094-0

Peter E. Keller, Emery Schubert


This study investigated cognitive and emotional effects of syncopation, a feature of musical rhythm that produces expectancy violations in the listener by emphasising weak temporal locations and de-emphasising strong locations in metric structure. Stimuli consisting of pairs of unsyncopated and syncopated musical phrases were rated by 35 musicians for perceived complexity, enjoyment, happiness, arousal, and tension. Overall, syncopated patterns were more enjoyed, and rated as happier, than unsyncopated patterns, while differences in perceived tension were unreliable. Complexity and arousal ratings were asymmetric by serial order, increasing when patterns moved from unsyncopated to syncopated, but not significantly changing when order was reversed. These results suggest that syncopation influences emotional valence (positively), and that while syncopated rhythms are objectively more complex than unsyncopated rhythms, this difference is more salient when complexity increases than when it decreases. It is proposed that composers and improvisers may exploit this asymmetry in perceived complexity by favoring formal structures that progress from rhythmically simple to complex, as can be observed in the initial sections of musical forms such as theme and variations.

Keywords: syncopation, serial asymmetry, affective response, cognition, rhythm, emotion, musical form

Letter from the editors editorial

pp. 157-159 | First published on 31 December 2011 | DOI:10.2478/v10053-008-0095-z

Rob H. J. van der Lubbe, Ulrich Ansorge