Seeing without knowing: Task relevance dissociates between visual awareness and recognition

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We demonstrate that task relevance dissociates between visual awareness and knowledge activation to create a state of seeing without knowing-visual awareness of familiar stimuli without recognizing them. We rely on the fact that in order to experience a Kanizsa illusion, participants must be aware of its inducers. While people can indicate the orientation of the illusory rectangle with great ease (signifying that they have consciously experienced the illusion's inducers), almost 30% of them could not report the inducers' color. Thus, people can see, in the sense of phenomenally experiencing, but not know, in the sense of recognizing what the object is or activating appropriate knowledge about it. Experiment 2 tests whether relevance-based selection operates within objects and shows that, contrary to the pattern of results found with features of different objects in our previous studies and replicated in Experiment 1, selection does not occur when both relevant and irrelevant features belong to the same object. We discuss these findings in relation to the existing theories of consciousness and to attention and inattentional blindness, and the role of cognitive load, object-based attention, and the use of self-reports as measures of awareness.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)125-137
Number of pages13
JournalAnnals of the New York Academy of Sciences
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Mar 2015

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 New York Academy of Sciences.


  • Inattentional blindness
  • Selective attention
  • Task relevance
  • Visual awareness

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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