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Attention induces conservative subjective biases in visual perception


Although attention usually enhances perceptual sensitivity, we found that it can also lead to relatively conservative detection biases and lower visibility ratings in discrimination tasks. These results are explained by a model in which attention reduces the trial-by-trial variability of the perceptual signal, and we determined how this model led to the observed behavior. These findings may partially reflect our impression of 'seeing' the whole visual scene despite our limited processing capacity outside of the focus of attention.

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Figure 1: Task design.
Figure 2: Results from experiments 1–4.


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H.L. received funding from the Human Frontiers Science Project (Short-Term Fellowship) and the Templeton Foundation (grant number 21569).

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Authors and Affiliations



D.R. conducted the experiments, analyzed the data and wrote the manuscript. B.M. performed the model fitting and comparison. T.G. and E.H. helped with data collection and conducted some of the control studies. F.P.d.L. conducted the eye-tracking control study. H.L. conceived the experiments, supervised the project, analyzed the data and wrote the paper.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Dobromir Rahnev or Hakwan Lau.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Supplementary Figures 1–8 and Supplementary Methods (PDF 1621 kb)

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Rahnev, D., Maniscalco, B., Graves, T. et al. Attention induces conservative subjective biases in visual perception. Nat Neurosci 14, 1513–1515 (2011).

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