Characterizing the limits of human visual awareness

Science. 2007 Aug 10;317(5839):823-5. doi: 10.1126/science.1143515.


Momentary awareness of a visual scene is very limited; however, this limitation has not been formally characterized. We test the hypothesis that awareness reflects a surprisingly impoverished data structure called a labeled Boolean map, defined as a linkage of just one feature value per dimension (for example, the color is green and the motion is rightward) with a spatial pattern. Features compete with each other, whereas multiple locations form a spatial pattern and thus do not compete. Perception of the colors of two objects was significantly improved by successive compared with simultaneous presentation, whereas perception of their locations was not. Moreover, advance information about which objects are relevant aided perception of colors much more than perception of locations. Both results support the Boolean map hypothesis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Attention
  • Awareness*
  • Color Perception*
  • Humans
  • Space Perception*