Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

Feature-Based Inattentional Blindness: Loss of Awareness to Featural Information in Fully Attended Objects

Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

Feature-Based Inattentional Blindness: Loss of Awareness to Featural Information in Fully Attended Objects

Article excerpt

Abstract In two experiments, we investigated the impact of feature-based attention on observers' awareness of object appearance. Participants were shown a sequence of two displays, each containing eight objects (rectangles), and were asked to detect changes in the orientation of a cued rectangle. A set of baseline trials preceded probe trials in which half of the rectangles in each display were unexpectedly distorted by 70 %. Participants in both Experiment 1 (100-ms display duration) and Experiment 2 (100- and 400-ms display durations) were unaware of these modifications in the task-irrelevant feature (texture), even when they were asked to select the viewed object in a forced choice procedure. A control experiment showed that participants could identify the physical distortion when they were made aware of its presence. The results demonstrate that feature-based attention moderates the appearance of objects, even when those objects are fully expected and fully attended, implying a distinct form of unawareness that we term feature-based inattentional blindness.

Keywords Visual awareness * Divided attention * Inattention * Selective attention

Published online: 17 June 2014

(Q> The Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2014


What determines the contents of visual awareness? The answer surely encompasses how information from bottom-up and top-down sources is combined. An observer's acciuate perception of an illuminated disc, for example, depends on both bottom-up sensory signals, such as the physical information acquired from stimulus intensify and stimulus diuation (Stevens's power law; Stevens, 1957), and top-down influences, including the observer's response biases and where his or her attention is directed. Here, we examined the role that visual attention, arguably the most studied and well-understood top-down influence, plays in creating or modulating visual awareness. Although visual attention often is considered purely in spatial terms, with spotlighted space serving as a frequent metaphor, attention also has been shown to enhance the processing of whole objects (object-based attention), specific features (feature-based attention), or other perceptual groupings (Carrasco, 2011; Olson, 2001; Scholl, 2001). Yet the relation between attention and visual awareness is only poorly understood: Some contend that attention and awareness are independent and empirically dissociable processes (Dehaene & Changeux, 2011; Koch & Tsuchiya, 2007; Lamme, 2003; van Boxtel, Tsuchiya, & Koch, 2010), others that attention is required for awareness (Cohen, Cavanagh, Chun, & Nakayama, 2012), and still others debate whether attention actually alters the appearance of consciously perceived objects (Carrasco, Ling, & Read, 2004; Gobell & Carrasco, 2005; Liu, Fuller, & Carrasco, 2006; Schneider, 2011; Schneider & Komlos, 2008). In the present study, we investigated the influence of feattire-based attention on visual awareness.

Inattentional blindness and its subtypes

A powerful illustration of the possible influence of attention on awareness can be found in classical demonstrations of inattentional blindness (IB), a failure to notice unexpected objects or events when attention is otherwise engaged. For example, participants engaged in judging the length of bisecting lines located in their periphery can completely miss the sudden appearance of a black square directly in their field of view (Mack & Rock, 1998). Interestingly, certain stimulus categories, such as happy faces or the participant's own name, are highly resistant to IB (Mack & Rock, 1998). Yet stimulus meaning is susceptible to IB: Participants involved in judging words with a certain semantic content can completely miss a semantically unrelated stimulus (Koivisto & Revonsuo, 2007).

Some authors have proposed that IB is an umbrella term for several mechanistically distinct forms of the phenomenon (Most, 2010). …

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