Philosophical Studies

, Volume 172, Issue 5, pp 1265–1278 | Cite as

Attention and perceptual organization

  • Carolyn Dicey JenningsEmail author


How does attention contribute to perceptual experience? Within cognitive science, attention is known to contribute to the organization of sensory features into perceptual objects, or “object-based organization.” The current paper tackles a different type of organization and thus suggests a different role for attention in conscious perception. Within every perceptual experience we find that more subjectively interesting percepts stand out in the foreground, whereas less subjectively interesting percepts are relegated to the background. The sight of a sycamore often gains the visual foreground for a nature lover, whereas the sound of a violin often gains the auditory foreground for a music lover, but not necessarily vice versa. How does the perceptual system organize early sensory processing according to the subject’s interests? The current paper reveals how this subject-based organization is brought about and maintained through top-down attention. In fact, the current paper argues that top-down attention is necessary for conscious perception in so far as it is necessary for bringing about and maintaining the subject-based organization of perceptual experience.


Attention Perception Siegel Phenomenal contrast Treisman 



Thanks are due to a number of people who helped me to clarify my position in this paper through encouragement and criticism, but especially to John Campbell, Daniel Dahlstrom, Imogen Dickie, Katalin Farkas, Christopher Hill, Christoph Koch, Brian McLaughlin, Bence Nanay, and Eric Schwitzgebel.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Philosophy and Cognitive ScienceUniversity of California, MercedMercedUSA

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