Abstract

Neurobiological studies of visual awareness usually focus on the neural events elicited by perceived or nonperceived stimuli but neglect the preexisting conditions that allow (or prevent) conscious perception. We have examined the conditions that lead to temporary motion blindness in a rapid serial visual presentation paradigm, in which subjects have to detect coherent motion in the peripheral stream after a cue (a red fixation point) in the central stream. The failure of awareness depends critically on the occurrence of similar coherent motion events (probes) before the cue. Event-related brain potentials (ERPs) were recorded to track the processing of motion distractors, which determine the prerequisites for this transient deficit. Analysis of motion-evoked responses revealed that there is no progressive reduction in sensitivity in early visual processing. There is, however, a progressive increase in amplitude of a negative wave over the frontal cortex at approximately 250 msec after motion onset and a corresponding reduction of a centro-parietal positivity at approximately 350 msec with an increasing number of distractors. We propose that these nonsensory ERP components reflect a postperceptual frontal gating mechanism that controls the access of visual stimuli to higher order evaluation and conscious detection.

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