Dissociation between the neural correlates of conscious face perception and visual attention.
journal contributionposted on 26.06.2019, 10:13 by Joaquin Navajas, Aleksander W. Nitka, Rodrigo Quian Quiroga
Given the higher chance to recognize attended compared to unattended stimuli, the specific neural correlates of these two processes, attention and awareness, tend to be intermingled in experimental designs. In this study, we dissociated the neural correlates of conscious face perception from the effects of visual attention. To do this, we presented faces at the threshold of awareness and manipulated attention through the use of exogenous prestimulus cues. We show that the N170 component, a scalp EEG marker of face perception, was modulated independently by attention and by awareness. An earlier P1 component was not modulated by either of the two effects and a later P3 component was indicative of awareness but not of attention. These claims are supported by converging evidence from (a) modulations observed in the average evoked potentials, (b) correlations between neural and behavioral data at the single-subject level, and (c) single-trial analyses. Overall, our results show a clear dissociation between the neural substrates of attention and awareness. Based on these results, we argue that conscious face perception is triggered by a boost in face-selective cortical ensembles that can be modulated by, but are still independent from, visual attention.