Attention to mental paint and change detection

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


According to the influential thesis of attentional transparency (AT), in having or reflecting on an ordinary visual experience, we can attend only outwards, to qualities the experience represents, never to intrinsic qualities of the experience itself, i.e., to “mental paint.” According to the competing view, attentional semitransparency (AS), although we usually attend outwards, to qualities the experience represents, we can also (perhaps with effort) attend inwards, to mental paint. So far, philosophers have debated this topic in strictly armchair means, especially phenomenological reflection. My aim in this paper is to show how to design an experiment, using the change detection paradigm for studying visual working memory that, if yielding positive results, would support AS. The structure of the argument is as follows. In standard change detection tasks, which involve attention to qualities the experience represents, there exists a known object integration effect (Luck and Vogel in Nature 390(6657):279–281, 1997). I formulate a hypothesis I call “the turn-off hypothesis,” according to which this effect does not exist in change detection tasks where subjects are instructed to attend to mental paint. I argue that, given AS, we have some reason to expect the turn-off hypothesis to be true, but given AT, we do not. Consequently, the truth of the turn-off hypothesis would support AS. I further argue that one can straightforwardly test the turn-off hypothesis, taking the standard change detection paradigm and instructing participants to attend inwards.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1991-2007
Number of pages17
JournalPhilosophical Studies
Issue number8
StatePublished - 1 Aug 2017
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016, Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht.


  • Attention
  • Attention to mental paint
  • Change detection
  • Intentionalism
  • Mental paint
  • Neuroscience of attention
  • Psychology of attention
  • Qualia
  • Transparency
  • Visual working memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy


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