It has been proposed that visual attention and consciousness are separate [Koch, C., & Tsuchiya, N. Attention and consciousness: Two distinct brain processes. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 11, 16–22, 2007] and possibly even orthogonal processes [Lamme, V. A. F. Why visual attention and awareness are different. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 7, 12–18, 2003]. Attention and consciousness converge when conscious visual percepts are attended and hence become available for conscious report. In such a view, a lack of reportability can have two causes: the absence of attention or the absence of a conscious percept. This raises an important question in the field of perceptual learning. It is known that learning can occur in the absence of reportability [Gutnisky, D. A., Hansen, B. J., Iliescu, B. F., & Dragoi, V. Attention alters visual plasticity during exposure-based learning. Current Biology, 19, 555–560, 2009; Seitz, A. R., Kim, D., & Watanabe, T. Rewards evoke learning of unconsciously processed visual stimuli in adult humans. Neuron, 61, 700–707, 2009; Seitz, A. R., & Watanabe, T. Is subliminal learning really passive? Nature, 422, 36, 2003; Watanabe, T., Náñez, J. E., & Sasaki, Y. Perceptual learning without perception. Nature, 413, 844–848, 2001], but it is unclear which of the two ingredients—consciousness or attention—is not necessary for learning. We presented textured figure-ground stimuli and manipulated reportability either by masking (which only interferes with consciousness) or with an inattention paradigm (which only interferes with attention). During the second session (24 hr later), learning was assessed neurally and behaviorally, via differences in figure-ground ERPs and via a detection task. Behavioral and neural learning effects were found for stimuli presented in the inattention paradigm and not for masked stimuli. Interestingly, the behavioral learning effect only became apparent when performance feedback was given on the task to measure learning, suggesting that the memory trace that is formed during inattention is latent until accessed. The results suggest that learning requires consciousness, and not attention, and further strengthen the idea that consciousness is separate from attention.

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