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Human observers have optimal introspective access to perceptual processes even for visually masked stimuli.

  • Author(s): Peters, Megan AK;
  • Lau, Hakwan
  • et al.

Many believe that humans can 'perceive unconsciously' - that for weak stimuli, briefly presented and masked, above-chance discrimination is possible without awareness. Interestingly, an online survey reveals that most experts in the field recognize the lack of convincing evidence for this phenomenon, and yet they persist in this belief. Using a recently developed bias-free experimental procedure for measuring subjective introspection (confidence), we found no evidence for unconscious perception; participants' behavior matched that of a Bayesian ideal observer, even though the stimuli were visually masked. This surprising finding suggests that the thresholds for subjective awareness and objective discrimination are effectively the same: if objective task performance is above chance, there is likely conscious experience. These findings shed new light on decades-old methodological issues regarding what it takes to consider a neurobiological or behavioral effect to be 'unconscious,' and provide a platform for rigorously investigating unconscious perception in future studies.

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