Rescuing stimuli from invisibility: Inducing a momentary release from visual masking with pre-target entrainment

Cognition. 2010 Apr;115(1):186-91. doi: 10.1016/j.cognition.2009.11.010. Epub 2009 Dec 24.


At near-threshold levels of stimulation, identical stimulus parameters can result in very different phenomenal experiences. Can we manipulate which stimuli reach consciousness? Here we show that consciousness of otherwise masked stimuli can be experimentally induced by sensory entrainment. We preceded a backward-masked stimulus with a series of rapid visual events presented at 12 Hz for 800 ms. Peaks in visual sensitivity (d') were observed when the target appeared at the time that the next entraining stimuli would have occurred. Observers' sensitivity for identical masked near-threshold stimuli increased by factors as large as 55%, but only at this precise moment in time. These data thus reveal that awareness of near-threshold stimuli can be manipulated by entrainment to rhythmic events, supporting the functional role of induced oscillations in underlying cortical excitability, and suggest a plausible mechanism of temporal attention.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Awareness / physiology*
  • Consciousness / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Perceptual Masking / physiology*
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Sensory Thresholds / physiology*
  • Visual Perception / physiology