Endogenous visuospatial attention increases visual awareness independent of visual discrimination sensitivity

Marine Vernet, Shruti Japee, Savannah Lokey, Sara Ahmed, Valentinos Zachariou, Leslie G. Ungerleider

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Visuospatial attention often improves task performance by increasing signal gain at attended locations and decreasing noise at unattended locations. Attention is also believed to be the mechanism that allows information to enter awareness. In this experiment, we assessed whether orienting endogenous visuospatial attention with cues differentially affects visual discrimination sensitivity (an objective task performance) and visual awareness (the subjective feeling of perceiving) during the same discrimination task. Gabor patch targets were presented laterally, either at low contrast (contrast stimuli) or at high contrast embedded in noise (noise stimuli). Participants reported their orientation either in a 3-alternative choice task (clockwise, counterclockwise, unknown) that allowed for both objective and subjective reports, or in a 2-alternative choice task (clockwise, counterclockwise) that provided a control for objective reports. Signal detection theory models were fit to the experimental data: estimated perceptual sensitivity reflected objective performance; decision criteria, or subjective biases, were a proxy for visual awareness. Attention increased sensitivity (i.e., improved objective performance) for the contrast, but not for the noise stimuli. Indeed, with the latter, attention did not further enhance the already high target signal or reduce the already low uncertainty on its position. Interestingly, for both contrast and noise stimuli, attention resulted in more liberal criteria, i.e., awareness increased. The noise condition is thus an experimental configuration where people think they see the targets they attend to better, even if they do not. This could be explained by an internal representation of their attentional state, which influences awareness independent of objective visual signals.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)297-304
Number of pages8
StatePublished - May 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the Intramural Research Program of the National Institute of Mental Health ( NCT00001360 – Protocol 93-M-0170 - ZIA MH002035-37). The authors would like to thank John INGEHOLM for help with the technical testing environment and Romain QUENTIN for helpful discussions of data analyses.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017


  • Conscious perception
  • Contrast
  • Noise
  • Objective and subjective vision
  • Signal detection theory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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