Detecting the presence of an object is a different process than identifying the object as a particular object. This difference has not been taken into account in designing experiments on the neural correlates of consciousness. We compared the electrophysiological correlates of conscious detection and identification directly by measuring ERPs while participants performed either a task only requiring the conscious detection of the stimulus or a higher-level task requiring its conscious identification. Behavioral results showed that, even if the stimulus was consciously detected, it was not necessarily identified. A posterior electrophysiological signature 200–300 msec after stimulus onset was sensitive for conscious detection but not for conscious identification, which correlated with a later widespread activity. Thus, we found behavioral and neural evidence for elementary visual experiences, which are not yet enriched with higher-level knowledge. The search for the mechanisms of consciousness should focus on the early elementary phenomenal experiences to avoid the confounding effects of higher-level processes.

You do not currently have access to this content.