August 2016
Volume 16, Issue 12
Open Access
Vision Sciences Society Annual Meeting Abstract  |   September 2016
Tuning perception: the content of visual working memory biases the quality of visual awareness
Author Affiliations
  • Christine Salahub
    Psychology, Brock University
  • Stephen Emrich
    Psychology, Brock University
Journal of Vision September 2016, Vol.16, 687. doi:
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      Christine Salahub, Stephen Emrich; Tuning perception: the content of visual working memory biases the quality of visual awareness. Journal of Vision 2016;16(12):687.

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      © ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)

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The likelihood that an individual will become subjectively aware of a visual stimulus can be affected by experimental manipulations of the stimulus itself (i.e., visual masking) or manipulation of cognitive factors. For example, previous studies have demonstrated that items held in visual working memory (VWM) that match target features allow targets to reach visual awareness faster. These studies on visual awareness have often used coarse measures of awareness, such as present/absent or forced-choice judgments. This has resulted in an all-or-none conceptualization of visual awareness, wherein an item is either seen or remains "invisible". However, recent evidence from object-substitution masking paradigms (OSM) suggest that visual awareness may instead be a graded process, as masking an item decreases the quality of its perceptual representation in addition to its threshold of awareness. In the present study we examined whether items held in VWM could influence the quality with which a partially masked target reached awareness. Participants were asked to hold an oriented Landolt C in VWM across each OSM trial (set size 2 or 4). On half of the trials the orientation of the Landolt C held in VWM matched the masked target, and on the other half it did not match the target. Data were analyzed using the three-component mixture model to determine the proportion of target responses, guesses, non-target responses, and the error (standard deviation) of responses within each condition. It was found that targets matching the contents of VWM were subsequently perceived with greater precision (i.e., less error). The item held in VWM did not affect the likelihood of making a target response, guess, or non-target error. These results suggest that items held in VWM are able to tune the quality of visual representations, which is a finding that is at odds with an all-or-none conceptualization of consciousness.

Meeting abstract presented at VSS 2016


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