Results from paradigms like change blindness and inattentional blindness indicate that observers are unaware of numerous aspects of the visual world. However, intuition suggests that perceptual experience is richer than these results indicate. Why does it feel like we see so much when the data suggests we see so little? One possibility stems from the fact that experimental studies always present observers with stimuli that they have never seen before. Meanwhile, when forming intuitions about perceptual experience, observers reflect on their experiences with scenes with which they are highly familiar (e.g., their office). Does prior experience with a scene change the bandwidth of perceptual awareness? Here, we asked if observers were better at noticing alterations to the periphery in familiar scenes compared with unfamiliar scenes. Here, we found that observers noticed changes to the periphery more frequently with familiar stimuli. Signal detection theoretic analyses revealed that when observers are unfamiliar with a stimulus, they are less sensitive at noticing (d′) and are more conservative in their response criterion (c). Taken together, these results suggest that prior knowledge expands the bandwidth of perceptual awareness. It should be stressed that these results challenge the widely held idea that prior knowledge fills in perception. Overall, these findings highlight how prior knowledge plays an important role in determining the limits of perceptual experience and is an important factor to consider when attempting to reconcile the tension between empirical observation and personal introspection.

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