Perception without awareness: perspectives from cognitive psychology

Cognition. 2001 Apr;79(1-2):115-34. doi: 10.1016/s0010-0277(00)00126-8.


Four basic approaches that have been used to demonstrate perception without awareness are described. Each approach reflects one of two types of experimental logic and one of two possible methods for controlling awareness. The experimental logic has been either to demonstrate a dissociation between a measure of perception with awareness and a measure that is sensitive to perception without awareness or to demonstrate a qualitative difference between the consequences of perception with and without awareness. Awareness has been controlled either by manipulating the stimulus conditions or by instructing observers on how to distribute their attention. The experimental findings based on all four approaches lead to the same conclusion; namely, stimuli are perceived even when observers are unaware of the stimuli. This conclusion is supported by results of studies in which awareness has been assessed with either objective measures of forced-choice discriminations or measures based on verbalizations of subjective conscious experiences. Given this solid empirical support for the concept of perception without awareness, a direction for future research studies is to assess the functions of information perceived without awareness in determining what is perceived with awareness. The available evidence suggests that information perceived without awareness both biases what stimuli are perceived with awareness and influences how stimuli perceived with awareness are consciously experienced.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Attention / physiology
  • Awareness / physiology*
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Perception / physiology*
  • Psychological Theory*