Abstract

An inattentional blindness paradigm was adapted to measure ERPs elicited by visual contour patterns that were or were not consciously perceived. In the first phase of the experiment, subjects performed an attentionally demanding task while task-irrelevant line segments formed square-shaped patterns or random configurations. After the square patterns had been presented 240 times, subjects' awareness of these patterns was assessed. More than half of all subjects, when queried, failed to notice the square patterns and were thus considered inattentionally blind during this first phase. In the second phase of the experiment, the task and stimuli were the same, but following this phase, all of the subjects reported having seen the patterns. ERPs recorded over the occipital pole differed in amplitude from 220 to 260 msec for the pattern stimuli compared with the random arrays regardless of whether subjects were aware of the patterns. At subsequent latencies (300–340 msec) however, ERPs over bilateral occipital-parietal areas differed between patterns and random arrays only when subjects were aware of the patterns. Finally, in a third phase of the experiment, subjects viewed the same stimuli, but the task was altered so that the patterns became task relevant. Here, the same two difference components were evident but were followed by a series of additional components that were absent in the first two phases of the experiment. We hypothesize that the ERP difference at 220–260 msec reflects neural activity associated with automatic contour integration whereas the difference at 300–340 msec reflects visual awareness, both of which are dissociable from task-related postperceptual processing.

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