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Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience

November 2015, Vol. 27, No. 11, Pages 2240-2252
(doi: 10.1162/jocn_a_00855)
© 2015 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Visual Awareness Is Limited by the Representational Architecture of the Visual System
Article PDF (544.82 KB)

Visual perception and awareness have strict limitations. We suggest that one source of these limitations is the representational architecture of the visual system. Under this view, the extent to which items activate the same neural channels constrains the amount of information that can be processed by the visual system and ultimately reach awareness. Here, we measured how well stimuli from different categories (e.g., faces and cars) blocked one another from reaching awareness using two distinct paradigms that render stimuli invisible: visual masking and continuous flash suppression. Next, we used fMRI to measure the similarity of the neural responses elicited by these categories across the entire visual hierarchy. Overall, we found strong brain–behavior correlations within the ventral pathway, weaker correlations in the dorsal pathway, and no correlations in early visual cortex (V1–V3). These results suggest that the organization of higher level visual cortex constrains visual awareness and the overall processing capacity of visual cognition.