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Causal role of prefrontal cortex in the threshold for access to consciousness

A. Del Cul, S. Dehaene, P. Reyes, E. Bravo, A. Slachevsky
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/brain/awp111 2531-2540 First published online: 11 May 2009

Summary

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.

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