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Sirawaj Itthipuripat, Kai-Yu Chang, Ashley Bong, John T. Serences; Stimulus visibility and uncertainty mediate the influence of attention on response bias and visual contrast appearance. Journal of Vision 2019;19(14):8. doi: https://doi.org/10.1167/19.14.8.
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Although attention is known to improve the efficacy of sensory processing, the impact of attention on subjective visual appearance is still a matter of debate. Although recent studies suggest that attention can alter the appearance of stimulus contrast, others argue that these changes reflect response bias induced by attention cues. Here, we provide evidence that attention has effects on both appearance and response bias. In a comparative judgment task in which subjects reported whether the attended or unattended visual stimulus had a higher perceived contrast, attention induced substantial baseline-offset response bias as well as small but significant changes in subjective contrast appearance when subjects viewed near-threshold stimuli. However, when subjects viewed suprathreshold stimuli, baseline-offset response bias decreased and attention primarily changed contrast appearance. To address the possibility that these changes in appearance might be influenced by uncertainty due to the attended and unattended stimuli having similar physical contrasts, subjects performed an equality judgment task in which they reported if the contrast of the two stimuli was the same or different. We found that, although there were still attention-induced changes in contrast appearance at lower contrasts, the robust changes in contrast appearance at higher contrasts observed in the comparative judgment task were diminished in the equality judgment task. Together, these results suggest that attention can impact both response bias and appearance, and these two types of attention effects are differentially mediated by stimulus visibility and uncertainty. Collectively, these findings help constrain arguments about the cognitive penetrability of perception.
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