When perception becomes conscious

British Journal Of Psychology 90 (4):543-566 (1999)
Abstract
The study of preconscious versus conscious processing has an extensive history in cognitive psychology, dating back to the writings of William James. Much of the experimental work on this issue has focused on perception, conceived of as input analysis, and on the relation of consciousness to attentional processing. The present paper examines when input analysis becomes conscious from the perspectives of cognitive modelling, methodology, and a more detailed understanding of what is meant by "conscious processing." Current evidence suggests that perception becomes conscious at a late-arising stage of focal-attentive processing concerned with information integration and dissemination. Reliable criteria for determining when perception becomes conscious combine the evidence of "first-person," phenomenological reports with "third-person" functional dissociations between preconscious and conscious processing. There are three, distinct senses in which a process may be said to be "conscious." It might be "conscious" (a) in the sense that one is conscious of the process, (b) in the sense that the operation of the process is accompanied by consciousness (of its results) and (c) in the sense that consciousness enters into or causally influences the process. Consciousness of familiar stimuli, rather than entering into input analysis, appears to follow it, in human information processing. Processes closely associated with the appearance of consciousness such as information integration and dissemination appear to operate unconsciously. Consequently, perception appears to be "conscious" only in sense (b)
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