Attention alters appearance

Nat Neurosci. 2004 Mar;7(3):308-13. doi: 10.1038/nn1194. Epub 2004 Feb 15.


Does attention alter appearance? This critical issue, debated for over a century, remains unsettled. From psychophysical evidence that covert attention affects early vision-it enhances contrast sensitivity and spatial resolution-and from neurophysiological evidence that attention increases the neuronal contrast sensitivity (contrast gain), one could infer that attention changes stimulus appearance. Surprisingly, few studies have directly investigated this issue. Here we developed a psychophysical method to directly assess the phenomenological correlates of attention in humans. We show that attention alters appearance; it boosts the apparent stimulus contrast. These behavioral results are consistent with neurophysiological findings suggesting that attention changes the strength of a stimulus by increasing its 'effective contrast' or salience.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Attention / physiology*
  • Brain / physiology
  • Contrast Sensitivity / physiology*
  • Cues*
  • Humans
  • Illusions / physiology*
  • Models, Neurological
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Photic Stimulation / methods
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Visual Pathways / physiology
  • Visual Perception / physiology*