Conscious and unconscious cognitive processes contribute independently to human behavior and can be dissociated. For example, humans report failing to see objects clearly in the periphery while simultaneously being able to grasp those objects accurately (Milner in Proc R Soc B Biol Sci 279:2289–2298, 2012). Knowing whether similar dissociations are present in nonverbal species is critical to our understanding of comparative psychology and the evolution of brains. However, such dissociations are difficult to detect in nonhumans because verbal reports of experience are the main way we discriminate putative conscious from unconscious processing. We trained monkeys in a localization task in which they responded to the location where a target appeared, and a matched detection task in which they reported the presence or absence of the same target. We used masking to manipulate the visibility of targets. Accuracy was high in both tasks when stimuli were unmasked and was attenuated by visual masking. At the strongest level of masking, performance in the detection task was at chance, while localization remained significantly above chance. Critically, errors in the detection task were predominantly misses, indicating that the monkeys’ behavior remained under stimulus control, but that the monkeys did not detect the target despite above-chance localization. While these results cannot establish the existence of phenomenal vision in monkeys, the dissociation of visually guided action from detection parallels the dissociation of conscious and unconscious vision seen in humans.
Blindsight Masking Signal detection Perception Vision
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We thank Emily K. Brown and Steven L. Sherrin for help with testing. This work was supported by National Institute of Mental Health Grant R01MH082819, National Science Foundation Grant 0745573, and by the National Center for Research Resources P51RR165, currently supported by the Office of Research Infrastructure Programs/OD P51OD11132. The experiments conducted were in compliance with the current laws of the United States of America. The authors declare no competing financial interests.
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