Consciousness without report: Insights from summary statistics and inattention 'blindness'

Marius Usher, Zohar Z. Bronfman, Shiri Talmor, Hilla Jacobson, Baruch Eitam

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


We contrast two theoretical positions on the relation between phenomenal and access consciousness. First, we discuss previous data supporting a mild Overflow position, according to which transient visual awareness can overflow report. These data are open to two interpretations: (i) observers transiently experience specific visual elements outside attentional focus without encoding them into working memory; (ii) no specific visual elements but only statistical summaries are experienced in such conditions. We present new data showing that under data-limited conditions observers cannot discriminate a simple relation (same versus different) without discriminating the elements themselves and, based on additional computational considerations, we argue that this supports the first interpretation: summary statistics (same/different) are grounded on the transient experience of elements. Second, we examine recent data from a variant of 'inattention blindness' and argue that contrary to widespread assumptions, it provides further support for Overflow by highlighting another factor, 'task relevance', which affects the ability to conceptualize and report (but not experience) visual elements. This article is part of the theme issue 'Perceptual consciousness and cognitive access'.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20170354
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1755
StatePublished - 19 Sep 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Authors’ contributions. Z.Z.B. and S.T. and M.U. designed the experiment. S.T. programmed and executed the experiment. Z.Z.B. developed the computational model. M.U. and B.E. wrote the paper. All the authors read and improved the paper. Competing Interests. We declare we have no competing interests. Funding. M.U. was supported by Israeli Science Foundation (1413/17) and the Binational (Israel-USA) Science Foundation (2014612). H.J. is supported by the Israeli Science Foundation (1001/17) and B.E. by the Israeli Science Foundation (229/16) and the Binational (Israel-USA) Science Foundation (2016299). Acknowledgements. We wish to thank Ned Block, Dominique Lammy, Rafi Malach, Liad Mudrik and Ian Phillips for very helpful discussions, and Aaron Kravitz for English editing.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 The Author(s) Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.


  • Attention
  • Consciousness
  • Inattentional blindness
  • Psychophysics
  • Summary statistics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology (all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences (all)


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