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Publication Detail
Attentional load modulates responses of human primary visual cortex to invisible stimuli
The extent to which stimulus-evoked activity in visual cortex depends on attention and awareness has long been an important challenge for visual neuroscience. Some influential theories of consciousness maintain that the allocation of attention is restricted to conscious representations [1,2]. However, in load theory of attention [3] competition between task-relevant and task-irrelevant stimuli for limited-capacity attention does not depend on conscious perception of the irrelevant stimuli. The critical test of these alternatives is whether the level of attentional load in a relevant task would determine unconscious neural processing of invisible stimuli. Human participants were scanned with high-field fMRI while performing a foveal task of low or high attentional load combined with simultaneous presentation of irrelevant, invisible monocular stimuli in the periphery that were continuously suppressed by a flashing mask in the other eye [4]. Retinotopic activity evoked in primary visual cortex (V1) by the invisible stimuli was strongly modulated by attentional load in the foveal task. In contrast to traditional views [1,2,5,6], our findings demonstrate that availability of attentional capacity determines neural representations related to unconscious processing of continuously suppressed stimuli in human primary visual cortex. Spill-over of attention to cortical representations of invisible stimuli (under low load) cannot be a sufficient condition for their awareness.
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