Measuring consciousness: is one measure better than the other?

Conscious Cogn. 2010 Dec;19(4):1069-78. doi: 10.1016/j.concog.2009.12.013. Epub 2010 Feb 4.


What is the best way of assessing the extent to which people are aware of a stimulus? Here, using a masked visual identification task, we compared three measures of subjective awareness: The Perceptual Awareness Scale (PAS), through which participants are asked to rate the clarity of their visual experience; confidence ratings (CR), through which participants express their confidence in their identification decisions, and Post-decision wagering (PDW), in which participants place a monetary wager on their decisions. We conducted detailed explorations of the relationships between awareness and identification performance, looking to determine (1) which scale best correlates with performance, and (2) whether we can detect performance in the absence of awareness and how the scales differ from each other in terms of revealing such unconscious processing. Based on these findings we discuss whether perceptual awareness should be considered graded or dichotomous. Results showed that PAS showed a much stronger performance-awareness correlation than either CR or PDW, particularly for low stimulus intensities. In general, all scales indicated above-chance performance when participants claimed not to have seen anything. However, such above-chance performance only showed when we also observed a correlation between awareness and performance. Thus (1) PAS seems to be the most exhaustive measure of awareness, and (2) we find support for above-chance performance in the absence of subjective awareness, but such unconscious knowledge only contributes to performance when we observe conscious knowledge as well. Similarities and differences between scales are discussed in the light of consciousness theories and response strategies.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Awareness
  • Consciousness*
  • Decision Making*
  • Discrimination, Psychological
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual*
  • Perceptual Masking
  • Psychometrics / statistics & numerical data
  • Psychomotor Performance
  • Reaction Time
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Subliminal Stimulation
  • Surveys and Questionnaires*
  • Uncertainty
  • Unconscious, Psychology
  • Young Adult