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Visual expectations change subjective experience without changing performance

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It is widely believed that visual expectations can change the subjective experiences of humans. We investigated how visual expectations in a recognition task affected objective performance and subjective perception. Using a 2-alternative-forced-choice task based on digit recognition of briefly presented and visually masked digits, we found over two experiments that expectations changed the quality of the experiences without changing the performance capabilities associated with the quality of experience. Expectations were manipulated by providing a cue indicating the set of possible digits that might appear on each trial. The results also inform the debate about whether subjective experiences can be categorized in a dichotomous manner or in a graded manner. We found that subjective experiences were graded near the objective threshold and more dichotomous away from the threshold. Furthermore, distinct expectations resulted in a more dichotomous distribution of subjective experience. We also provide evidence of an interesting relationship between stimulus duration, objective performance and subjective ratings. Only experiences that were rated as evoking some degree of perception showed systematic improvements in objective performance as a function of stimulus duration. These findings suggest that subjective experience cannot be understood without considering the broader cognitive context, namely that the quality of subjective experiences is dependent on a multitude of factors such as attention, task requirements and cognitive expectations.

Original languageEnglish
JournalConsciousness and Cognition
Pages (from-to)59-69
Number of pages11
Publication statusPublished - May 2019

    Research areas

  • Consciousness, Expectations, Metacognition, Perception, Subjective experience, Visual attention

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