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Different signal enhancement pathways of attention and consciousness underlie perception in humans

van Boxtel, Jeroen J. A. (2017) Different signal enhancement pathways of attention and consciousness underlie perception in humans. Journal of Neuroscience, 37 (24). pp. 5912-5922. ISSN 0270-6474. PMCID PMC6596511. doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1908-16.2017.

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It is not yet known whether attention and consciousness operate through similar or largely different mechanisms. Visual processing mechanisms are routinely characterized by measuring contrast response functions (CRFs). In this report, behavioral CRFs were obtained in humans (both males and females) by measuring afterimage durations over the entire range of inducer stimulus contrasts to reveal visual mechanisms behind attention and consciousness. Deviations relative to the standard CRF, i.e., gain functions, describe the strength of signal enhancement, which were assessed for both changes due to attentional task and conscious perception. It was found that attention displayed a response-gain function, whereas consciousness displayed a contrast-gain function. Through model comparisons, which only included contrast-gain modulations, both contrast-gain and response-gain effects can be explained with a two-level normalization model, in which consciousness affects only the first level and attention affects only the second level. These results demonstrate that attention and consciousness can effectively show different gain functions because they operate through different signal enhancement mechanisms.

Item Type:Article
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URLURL TypeDescription CentralArticle
van Boxtel, Jeroen J. A.0000-0003-2643-0474
Additional Information:© 2017 the authors. Beginning six months after publication the Work will be made freely available to the public on SfN’s website to copy, distribute, or display under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) license ( The user may not create, compile, publish, host, enable or otherwise make available a mirror site of The Journal of Neuroscience site. Received June 13, 2016; revised April 13, 2017; accepted May 11, 2017. Author contributions: J.J.A.v.B. designed research; J.J.A.v.B. performed research; J.J.A.v.B. contributed unpublished reagents/analytic tools; J.J.A.v.B. analyzed data; J.J.A.v.B. wrote the paper. This work was supported in part by the Netherlands Organisation of Scientific Research (Rubicon Grant). I thank Naotsugu Tsuchiya, Jakob Hohwy, and April Kartikasari for feedback on the manuscript and Drisika Acharya for help with the data acquisition. The author declares no competing financial interests.
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Nederlandse Organisatie voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek (NWO)UNSPECIFIED
Subject Keywords:afterimages; attention; consciousness; contrast response function
Issue or Number:24
PubMed Central ID:PMC6596511
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20170530-111043012
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Official Citation:Different Signal Enhancement Pathways of Attention and Consciousness Underlie Perception in Humans Jeroen J.A. van Boxtel Journal of Neuroscience 14 June 2017, 37 (24) 5912-5922; DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1908-16.2017
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:77828
Deposited By: Tony Diaz
Deposited On:30 May 2017 18:21
Last Modified:25 Mar 2022 18:04

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