Abstract

Every day, we experience a rich and complex visual world. Our brain constantly translates meaningless fragmented input into coherent objects and scenes. However, our attentional capabilities are limited, and we can only report the few items that we happen to attend to. So what happens to items that are not cognitively accessed? Do these remain fragmentary and meaningless? Or are they processed up to a level where perceptual inferences take place about image composition? To investigate this, we recorded brain activity using fMRI while participants viewed images containing a Kanizsa figure, an illusion in which an object is perceived by means of perceptual inference. Participants were presented with the Kanizsa figure and three matched nonillusory control figures while they were engaged in an attentionally demanding distractor task. After the task, one group of participants was unable to identify the Kanizsa figure in a forced-choice decision task; hence, they were “inattentionally blind.” A second group had no trouble identifying the Kanizsa figure. Interestingly, the neural signature that was unique to the processing of the Kanizsa figure was present in both groups. Moreover, within-subject multivoxel pattern analysis showed that the neural signature of unreported Kanizsa figures could be used to classify reported Kanizsa figures and that this cross-report classification worked better for the Kanizsa condition than for the control conditions. Together, these results suggest that stimuli that are not cognitively accessed are processed up to levels of perceptual interpretation.

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