The first decade of event-related potential (ERP) research had established that the most consistent correlates of the onset of visual consciousness are the early visual awareness negativity (VAN), a posterior negative component in the N2 time range, and the late positivity (LP), an anterior positive component in the P3 time range. Two earlier extensive reviews ten years ago had concluded that VAN is the earliest and most reliable correlate of visual phenomenal consciousness, whereas LP probably reflects later processes associated with (...) reflective/access consciousness. This article provides an update to those earlier reviews. ERP and MEG studies that have appeared since 2010 and directly compared ERPs between aware and unaware conditions are reviewed, and important new developments in the field are discussed. The result corroborates VAN as the earliest and most consistent signature of visual phenomenal consciousness, and casts further doubt on LP as an ERP correlate of phenomenal consciousness. (shrink)
Event-related potential studies have attempted to discover the processes that underlie conscious visual perception by contrasting ERPs produced by stimuli that are consciously perceived with those that are not. Variability of the proposed ERP correlates of consciousness is considerable: the earliest proposed ERP correlate of consciousness coincides with sensory processes and the last one marks postperceptual processes. A negative difference wave called visual awareness negativity , typically observed around 200 ms after stimulus onset in occipitotemporal sites, gains strong support for (...) reflecting the processes that correlate with, and possibly enable, aware visual perception. Research suggests that the early parts of conscious processing can proceed independently of top-down attention, although top-down attention may modulate visual processing even before consciousness. Evidence implies that the contents of consciousness are provided by interactions in the ventral stream, but indispensable contributions from dorsal regions influence already low-level visual responses. (shrink)
To study whether the distinction between introspective and non-introspective states of mind is an empirical reality or merely a conceptual distinction, we measured event-related potentials elicited in introspective and non-introspective instruction conditions while the observers were trying to detect the presence of a masked stimulus. The ERPs indicated measurable differences related to introspection in both preconscious and conscious processes. Our data support the hypothesis that introspective states empirically differ from non-introspective states.
In order to study whether there exist a period of activity in the human early visual cortex that contributes exclusively to visual awareness, we applied transcranial magnetic stimulation over the early visual cortex and measured subjective visual awareness during visual forced-choice symbol or orientation discrimination tasks. TMS produced one dip in awareness 60–120 ms after stimulus onset, while forced-choice orientation discrimination was suppressed between 60 and 90 ms and symbol discrimination between 60 and 120 ms. Thus, a time window specific (...) to visual awareness was found only in the orientation condition at 120 ms. The results imply that both conscious and unconscious perception depend on activity in early visual areas. On the basis of previous estimates of neural processing speed, we suggest that the late part of the activity period most likely involve local extrastriate–striate interactions which provide the contents for visual awareness but are not themselves sufficient for awareness to arise. (shrink)
Visual feature binding has been suggested to depend on reentrant processing. We addressed the relationship between binding, reentry, and visual awareness by asking the participants to discriminate the color and orientation of a colored bar and to report their phenomenal awareness of the target features. The success of reentry was manipulated with object substitution masking and backward masking. The results showed that late reentrant processes are necessary for successful binding but not for phenomenal awareness of the bound features. Binding errors (...) were accompanied by phenomenal awareness of the misbound feature conjunctions, demonstrating that they were experienced as real properties of the stimuli . Our results suggest that early preattentive binding and local recurrent processing enable features to reach phenomenal awareness, while later attention-related reentrant iterations modulate the way in which the features are bound and experienced in awareness. (shrink)
There are conflicting views concerning the electrophysiological correlates of visual consciousness. Whereas one view considers a relatively late positive deflection as a primary correlate of consciousness, another model links consciousness with earlier negativity . The present experiment utilized metacontrast masking in investigating the electrophysiological correlates of visual consciousness. The participants were presented with target-mask sequences in three stimulus onset asynchronies. The target stimuli were followed by either a metacontrast mask or a similar-looking, but ineffective pseudomask. The results showed that the (...) first deflection that correlated with target visibility was VAN which was followed by LP. We argue that the VAN is the primary correlate target visibility, while the LP reflects later, postperceptual processing stages. (shrink)