Levels of processing during non-conscious perception: a critical review

Document Type: 
Unconscious States Processing
Date of Issue: 
Sid Kouider, Stanislas Dehaene
Journal/Publication Title: 
Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London B
Page Range: 
Publish status: 
Understanding the extent and limits of non-conscious processing is an important step on the road to a thorough understanding of the cognitive and cerebral correlates of conscious perception. In this article, we present a critical review of research on subliminal perception during masking and other related experimental conditions. Although initially controversial, the possibility that a broad variety of processes can be activated by a non-reportable stimulus is now well established. Behavioural findings of subliminal priming indicate that a masked word or digit can have an influence on perceptual, lexical and semantic levels, while neuroimaging directly visualizes the brain activation that it evokes in several cortical areas. This activation is often attenuated under subliminal presentation conditions compared to consciously reportable conditions, but there are sufficiently many exceptions, in paradigms such as the attentional blink, to indicate that high activation, per se, is not a sufficient condition for conscious access to occur. We conclude by arguing that for a stimulus to reach consciousness, two factors are jointly needed: the input stimulus must have enough strength (which can be prevented by masking) and it must receive top-down attention (which can be prevented by drawing attention to another stimulus or task). This view leads to a distinction between two types of non-conscious processes, which we respectively call subliminal and preconscious. According to us, maintaining this distinction is essential in order to make sense of the growing neuroimaging data on the neural correlates of consciousness.
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