Unconscious Perception

Presenter: David Carmel
The world constantly presents our perceptual systems with more information than they can process. As a result, at any given time we are only conscious of a subset of the information available to our senses. But what determines the content of our consciousness? And can meaningful perceptual processing occur for stimuli that do not reach awareness?

The age-old interest in consciousness and subjective experience has evolved in recent years into a major effort to discern the cognitive and neural mechanisms involved in perceptual awareness. This work aims to both characterize the neural correlates of consciousness – those patterns of brain activity that reflect conscious experience – and to delineate the interactions between conscious experience and cognitive functions such as attention, working memory and emotion.

In this talk I will describe recent work in which I used interocular rivalry and suppression to address two related issues, and how they are effected by individual differences: First, transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) studies establishing the importance of non-visual, high-level regions of parietal cortex in selecting sensory stimuli for conscious representation, and the role of individual differences in brain structure; and second, physiological (skin conductance) studies investigating unconscious emotional visual processing (fear conditioning), and the role of state anxiety.