Causal Role of Prefrontal Cortex in the Threshold for Access to Consciousness

Brain. 2009 Sep;132(Pt 9):2531-40. doi: 10.1093/brain/awp111. Epub 2009 May 11.

Abstract

What neural mechanisms support our conscious perception of briefly presented stimuli? Some theories of conscious access postulate a key role of top-down amplification loops involving prefrontal cortex (PFC). To test this issue, we measured the visual backward masking threshold in patients with focal prefrontal lesions, using both objective and subjective measures while controlling for putative attention deficits. In all conditions of temporal or spatial attention cueing, the threshold for access to consciousness was systematically shifted in patients, particular after a lesion of the left anterior PFC. The deficit affected subjective reports more than objective performance, and objective performance conditioned on subjective visibility was essentially normal. We conclude that PFC makes a causal contribution to conscious visual perception of masked stimuli, and outline a dual-route signal detection theory of objective and subjective decision making.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Algorithms
  • Attention / physiology
  • Brain Damage, Chronic / pathology
  • Brain Damage, Chronic / physiopathology*
  • Brain Damage, Chronic / psychology
  • Brain Mapping / methods
  • Consciousness / physiology*
  • Cues
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual / physiology
  • Perceptual Masking / physiology
  • Photic Stimulation / methods
  • Prefrontal Cortex / pathology
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiopathology*
  • Sensory Thresholds / physiology