Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
The neural underpinnings of perceptual awareness have been extensively studied using unisensory (e.g., visual alone) stimuli. However, perception is generally multisensory, and it is unclear whether the neural architecture uncovered in these studies directly translates to the multisensory domain. Here, we use EEG to examine brain responses associated with the processing of visual, auditory, and audiovisual stimuli presented near threshold levels of detectability, with the aim of deciphering similarities and differences in the neural signals indexing the transition into perceptual awareness across vision, audition, and combined visual–auditory (multisensory) processing. More specifically, we examine (1) the presence of late evoked potentials (∼>300 msec), (2) the across-trial reproducibility, and (3) the evoked complexity associated with perceived versus nonperceived stimuli. Results reveal that, although perceived stimuli are associated with the presence of late evoked potentials across each of the examined sensory modalities, between-trial variability and EEG complexity differed for unisensory versus multisensory conditions. Whereas across-trial variability and complexity differed for perceived versus nonperceived stimuli in the visual and auditory conditions, this was not the case for the multisensory condition. Taken together, these results suggest that there are fundamental differences in the neural correlates of perceptual awareness for unisensory versus multisensory stimuli. Specifically, the work argues that the presence of late evoked potentials, as opposed to neural reproducibility or complexity, most closely tracks perceptual awareness regardless of the nature of the sensory stimulus. In addition, the current findings suggest a greater similarity between the neural correlates of perceptual awareness of unisensory (visual and auditory) stimuli when compared with multisensory stimuli.