Is consciousness a gradual phenomenon? Evidence for an all-or-none bifurcation during the attentional blink

Psychol Sci. 2004 Nov;15(11):720-8. doi: 10.1111/j.0956-7976.2004.00748.x.


Several theories of the neural correlates of consciousness assume that there is a continuum of perception, associated with a gradual change in the intensity of brain activation. But some models, considering reverberation of neural activity as necessary for conscious perception, predict a sharp nonlinear transition between unconscious and conscious processing. We asked participants to evaluate the visibility of target words on a continuous scale during the attentional blink, which is known to impede explicit reports. Participants used this continuous scale in an all-or-none fashion: Targets presented during the blink were either identified as well as targets presented outside the blink period or not detected at all. We suggest that a stochastic nonlinear bifurcation in neural activity underlies the all-or-none perception observed during the attentional blink.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Consciousness / physiology*
  • Female
  • Fixation, Ocular
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Visual Cortex / physiology
  • Visual Perception