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Consciousness and Cognition
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Signal detection theory, the exclusion failure paradigm and weak consciousness—Evidence for the access/phenomenal distinction?
School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences, Dugald Stewart Building, 3 Charles Street, Edinburgh, Midlothian EH8 9AD, UK
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Block [Block, N. (2005). Two neural correlates of consciousness. Trends in Cognitive Science, 9, 46–52] and Snodgrass (2006) claim that a signal detection theory (SDT) analysis of qualitative difference paradigms, in particular the exclusion failure paradigm, reveals cases of phenomenal consciousness without access consciousness. This claim is unwarranted on several grounds. First, partial cognitive access rather than a total lack of cognitive access can account for exclusion failure results. Second, Snodgrass’s Objective Threshold/Strategic (OT/S) model of perception relies on a problematic ‘enable’ approach to perception that denies the possibility of intentional control of unconscious perception and any effect of following different task instructions on the presence/absence of phenomenal consciousness. Many of Block’s purported examples of phenomenal consciousness without cognitive access also rely on this problematic approach. Third, qualitative difference paradigms may index only a subset of access consciousness. Thus, qualitative difference paradigms like exclusion failure cannot be used to isolate phenomenal consciousness, any attempt to do so still faces serious methodological problems. Ó 2008 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Article history: Received 4 March 2008 Available online 23 December 2008
Keywords: Signal detection theory Access consciousness Phenomenal consciousness Reﬂexive consciousness Exclusion failure paradigm
1. Introduction Block’s distinction between access and phenomenal consciousness is meant to highlight the differences between the functional and the experiential aspects of consciousness. Block argues that many scientists who claim to research consciousness only succeed in describing aspects of access consciousness, not phenomenal consciousness, and thereby miss out an important part of human experience. Access consciousness is loosely deﬁned as involving whatever information is in the global workspace or on-line processing. Phenomenal consciousness is deﬁned as the what-is-it-like-ness of an experience. These loose deﬁnitions make it difﬁcult to identify cases of pure access or pure phenomenal consciousness, leading to the challenge of how to operationalise these two concepts. Ned Block (2005) and Michael Snodgrass (Snodgrass, Bernat, & Shevrin, 2004; Snodgrass & Shevrin, 2006) claim that a signal detection theory (SDT) approach to perception can be used to identify and isolate phenomenal consciousness. They further claim that the exclusion failure paradigm provides experimental evidence for the existence of phenomenal consciousness without access consciousness. Under their interpretation, the threshold at which subjects fail to report stimuli, the subjective threshold, is the point below which experiences can be phenomenally conscious but not (usually) cognitively accessed. After a brief description of access and phenomenal consciousness, signal detection theory (SDT) and the exclusion failure paradigm, I will explain how Snodgrass and Block have used SDT to differentiate access and phenomenal consciousness. I will then argue that Snodgrass and Block have not provided an example of isolated phenomenal consciousness, and that doing so remains a very difﬁcult task. The ﬁrst argument against Snodgrass and Block’s claims concerns an alternative explanation of
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In the middle of the word-likeness scale. as applied to the exclusion failure paradigm. the easier it is to detect. Access consciousness is the sort of consciousness that functionalism can describe while phenomenal consciousness is the sort that it leaves out. 48). and to Snodgrass’s Objective Threshold/Strategic (OT/S) model of perception in general. p. decision-making. Dehaene & Naccache. and Shanahan and Baars (2007). 2004. perceptual categorization.g. I argue that the complexity of the task suggests that it indexes only a part of what is cognitively accessed by the subject. However. Block claims that we are conscious of more information than we can report or identify at any one time. 2007. and raises the question if and how phenomenal consciousness can be identiﬁed experimentally. Since the noise (on the left) and signal plus noise (on the right) distributions overlap. pg. they are capable of at least imagining performing an intentional action upon request). Fig. and the general method of using performance thresholds deﬁned in SDT as thresholds of access and phenomenal consciousness is a questionable one. Irvine / Consciousness and Cognition 18 (2009) 551–560 Fig. 550). 481). 1966). and people suffering from paralysis. the problems with this approach apply to both of their interpretations of the exclusion failure paradigm. Therefore. the subject must decide what level of word-likeness they will count as a positive detection. voluntary direction of attention. and if the level is too low. reasoning. 487–496). they will falsely identify noise as words (false positives). so phenomenal consciousness covers more information than is available in the global workspace. Block.g. especially pp. evaluation of alternatives. Although Snodgrass and Block’s models of perception differ. it misses out something important. it is possible to have access consciousness with a lack of report.552 E. it is important to describe access and phenomenal consciousness as originally conceived by Block (see e. 2. Along with traditional richness arguments. leading to possible errors in word detection. The ﬁnal argument points to the problem in categorizing the kind of consciousness that the exclusion failure paradigm assesses. and some noise can look like words. The second set of problems concerns Snodgrass and Block’s reliance on an ‘enable’. some words can look like noise. approach to perception. such as in pre-verbal infants. exclusion failure by Fisk and Haase (2006) which suggests that partial cognitive access can account for the experimental results rather than a complete lack of cognitive access. it has been used to investigate unconscious perception. type and length of training. Access and phenomenal consciousness First of all. some animals. or more recently.2 Although a functionalist theory of consciousness can investigate and describe the activities carried out in the global workspace. According to Block. and since it was shown to apply to the human perceptual system (Green & Swets. p. planning. Phenomenal consciousness is a slippery concept since it cannot be identiﬁed with a report. Reproduced with permission from Elsevier. Access consciousness concerns ‘consumer’ systems such as ‘‘systems of memory. From Snodgrass (2002. . and varies according to many variables such as task type. they will fail to detect some words (false negatives). The basic idea is that the more word-like a stimulus is. 1990). phenomenology (Block. Although reportability is normally taken to be the measure of access consciousness. Block and Snodgrass claim to be able to identify it using response criterions deﬁned in SDT. Functionalism does not seem to capture what it is like to be conscious. Signal detection theory (SDT) SDT is a model of how systems detect signals amongst noise. 2 On the relation between working memory and access consciousness see Block (2007. ‘‘phenomenal consciousness overﬂows cognitive accessibility” (Block. 2005. 1 shows how a word detection task can be modeled. 1. 1 People with locked-in syndrome or severe paralysis may be said to be capable of access consciousness if brain imaging shows activation in areas thought to be necessary to completing a task (e. rather than an ‘endow’. 2007). The level at which subjects start to make positive detections is the criterion level c. and more generally. the paradigm cannot be used to isolate phenomenal consciousness. 3. Block drew the distinction between access and phenomenal consciousness in order to argue against a functionalist theory of consciousness.1 Following the terminology of the global workspace theory (Dehaene & Changeux. Block identiﬁes access consciousness with whatever information is in the global workspace. rational control of action” (Block. If this level is too high. 2001). which is commonly equated with working memory. The whatit-is-like-ness of consciousness is what Block calls phenomenal consciousness.
reading back) the neutral words than the swear words. Here.g. The criterion level therefore tracks the effects of non-perceptual factors on the responses of the subject. ‘shot’) and one might be swear words (e.1947a. they have a higher criterion level for reporting ‘shit’ than for ‘shot’ (Blackwell. subjects are phenomenally conscious of stimuli but do not (usually) have any cognitive access to this information. it does not accurately reﬂect the subject’s underlying ability to discriminate or identify stimuli. and they will probably be more worried about false positives (reporting the presence of a stimulus when it is not there) for swear words than for neutral words.g. 74). 2006. (n-alternative forced choice task). 1952. This is because subjects might not expect swear words to be ﬂashed at them by experimenters. since this threshold is liable to change with the criterion level. Previously.g. it was thought that the swear words were perceived unconsciously and then repressed by some defense mechanism. one set is neutral (e. stimulus durations) for above chance task performance. Eriksen. 3 The subjective/objective distinction originates from Cheesman and Merikle’s work on unconscious perception (see Cheesman & Merikle. 1949). 2. 1960. However.3 The objective detection threshold (ODT). and can be used to ﬁnd minimum conditions (e. he does assert that in some cases. SDT analysis suggests that there are cases of phenomenal consciousness without cognitive access. p. it provides a useful framework to use in a scientiﬁc description of conscious and unconscious perception. subjects want to be very conﬁdent that they see ‘shit’ before they report it. Since the threshold for freely reporting neutral words is higher than that for reporting swear words. such as the exclusion failure paradigm. and motivation (Green & Swets. The subjective threshold is the point at which subjects no longer freely report the presence of a stimulus (or identity.E. but will report lower conﬁdence perceptions of ‘shot’. subjects are weakly conscious of stimuli. Although Block does not support Snodgrass’s model of conscious/unconscious perception in full. depending on the task). SDT in itself is neutral about the relationship between subjective and objective measures and consciousness. The detection threshold is typically lower than the identiﬁcation threshold since less information is needed to complete this task. Irvine / Consciousness and Cognition 18 (2009) 551–560 553 50 ms Target word ‘reason’ 250 ms word stem ‘rea’ Inclusion task – complete stem to form target (priming) Exclusion task Inclusion task word stem ‘rea’ Half of subjects given motivation via money for good performance Exclusion task – complete stem to form word that is not the target. and response thresholds deﬁned by SDT suggest themselves to be thresholds of consciousness. marks where a subject is no longer able to detect a stimulus among noise (yes/no forced choice task).objective threshold methods index phenomenally unconscious perception.g. However. but that subjects do not like reporting swear words. The use of SDT in psychophysics gave researchers a method of ﬁnding an invariable measure of a subject’s ability to do a task. The exclusion failure paradigm and Block and Snodgrass’s interpretation of it is discussed below. ‘shit’) or sexually loaded words. . and the objective identiﬁcation threshold (OIT) marks where a subject is no longer able to identify stimuli out of several possible choices.e.g. they might feel uncomfortable in acknowledging or reporting the words. subjects are consistently better at freely reporting (i.e. However. in this intermediate area. Therefore. Exclusion failure Paradigm. . ‘reader’ Fig. see e. two sets of words are ﬂashed at subjects. 1966). Perceptual defense illustrates how subjective reports can be very unreliable measures of what a subject is experiencing. Thus Snodgrass and Shevrin have claimed that: ‘‘. SDT analysis provides an objective measure of a subject’s sensitivity to stimuli. whereas subjective threshold methods index phenomenally conscious but reﬂectively unconscious perception” (Snodgrass & Shevrin. and this point can be taken to be the threshold for conscious perception. They argue that above the objective identiﬁcation threshold (OIT) but below the subjective threshold. . 1947b. That is. An example of how SDT has been applied to discussions of conscious and unconscious perception is the case of perceptual defense (for original papers on perceptual defense. researchers had relied on subjective measures of perception that do not take into account the response criterion of the subject. and how useful objective measures are in giving a measure of task performance that discounts response bias. Bruner & Postman. Despite both sets of words being shown in equivalent conditions. e. i. early SDT theorists argued that both sets of words are processed to an equally high level. 1984). 1958). Goldiamond.
According to Snodgrass and Block. Any stimuli that are not presented above the subjective threshold and are not present in the ‘global workspace’ are completely unconscious. reporting. as it is a case of standard priming. and the subjects asked to perform either an inclusion or an exclusion task. In normal conditions. The exclusion task is to complete the word stem to form a word that is not the target—to exclude the target to form for example ‘reader’. which I argue rests on questionable assumptions. Visser and Merikle found evidence that motivation can in fact signiﬁcantly improve exclusion task performance at the 50 ms level. even at 50 ms. but at 50 ms duration subjects do not report seeing the stimulus.08 ± . Irvine / Consciousness and Cognition 18 (2009) 551–560 Table 1 Mean proportion of stem words completed to form target in the exclusion failure paradigm.554 E. 2. ‘reason’) for either 50 ms or 250 ms. and Sergent (2006) model of preconscious stimuli. This was a very surprising result for Visser and Merikle. p. 5. ‘reason’. In this paper.42 ± . Dehaene. Visser and Merikle argue that information at the 50 ms stimulus level is capable of being both consciously (intentionally) and unconsciously (automatically) processed. Naccache.04 . 100). Used with permission from the University of Illinois Press.01 Adapted from Table 1 in Visser and Merikle (1999. The qualitative difference in performance for the control subjects doing the exclusion task is fairly clear.18 ± .97 ± . I will contrast Visser and Merikle’s model with that of Block and Snodgrass’s interpretation of their results. as in our proposal. The 250 ms duration is long enough for subjects to freely report the stimulus. see Weiskrantz (1998). pg. and reasoning about these stimuli simply ‘enables’ a higher order consciousness of the already conscious stimuli. This leads to an obvious problem for them in describing a model to account for their results. which results in predictable and automatic effects such as priming. Snodgrass and Block favor an ‘enable’ account (though Block does not follow this account in all cases) in which we are able to have experiences of stimuli even though we may not be making use of them in the global workspace. successful exclusion at 250 ms and exclusion failure at 50 ms. Visser and Merikle (1999) also offered half their subjects money as a reward for good task performance.20 ± . Visser and Merikle’s model does not contain a level of unaccessed awareness.06 . or whether reﬂective processes actually endow subjective threshold stimuli with phenomenal awareness” (Snodgrass & Shevrin.99 ± . .03* . original italics).01 . A word stem ‘rea’ is then shown. This task is fairly hard even at 250 ms as it requires concentration to overcome the priming effects.02 . With increased attention. Enable or endow? exclusion failure The two explanations of the improvement seen in exclusion task with motivation follow the basic ‘enable’ and ‘endow’ accounts of perception. stimuli presented below the subjective threshold can sometimes be consciously experienced. For a stimulus duration of 50 ms subjects perform close to baseline levels. but it may be said to follow something like Dehaene and Changeux (2004). 76.03 50 ms . Subjects are shown a target word (e. 0 ms presentation duration Inclusion task Control Motivated Exclusion task Control Motivated .03 . As Snodgrass and Shevrin note: ‘‘It is unclear whether reﬂective processes simply enable the strategic use of (already) phenomenally conscious stimuli.4 Visser and Merikle’s account can be described as an ‘endow’ account in which the only stimuli that we are conscious of are those we are currently making use of. since perceptual processing of the 50 ms stimuli was supposed to be unconscious.06 . was used by Visser and Merikle to argue that the 250 ms stimuli are consciously perceived but the 50 ms stimuli are not.04 . Visser and Merikle do not provide a model of the effects of attention.03 .22 ± . The results are shown below in Table 1.04 250 ms . in which attention can make low level stimuli available to the global workspace. but improve greatly for the 250 ms stimuli. The exclusion failure paradigm The exclusion failure paradigm is summarized in Fig. 2006.02 ± . For the ‘payoff bonus’ group who received money for successfully completing a task.95% conﬁdence interval. previously unused and therefore unconscious information can be ‘endowed’ with consciousness. In order to investigate the effects of motivation on this task. Changeux. This is an easy task to complete. conscious intentional control can override the priming effects that are normally automatic. automatic. and impervious to top-down effects such as increased motivation. the unconscious processes ‘win out’. reasoning with and so forth.23 ± . 4 For more on the original distinction between ‘enable’ and ‘endow’ accounts. Sackur. This difference in responses. so all perception below the subjective threshold is completely unconscious. * . 4.39 ± . The inclusion task is to complete the word stem to form the target word. since successful exclusion was assumed to depend on the stimuli being conscious.g. In line with ‘endow’ approaches.25 ± .26 ± . With increased motivation and therefore increased attention directed to the task.
SDT can explain this improvement in exclusion performance through the differences in strategies required to be successful in these paradigms.45 at 43 ms. exclusion errors were . It could therefore be argued that both Visser and Merickle’s attention explanation (endow) and Snodgrass and Block’s criterion explanation (enable) are consistent with no improvement in the inclusion task. 2006). subjects were shown to have access to more information than could be concluded from Visser and Merikle’s results. However. but the level of information required to perform the tasks successfully within the identify-exclude strategy. Subjects can use low level information from the target word such as word shape (e. Since there is not enough information to clearly identify the target word in the 50 ms free report condition.35 for 57 ms and . According to Snodgrass and Block’s explanation. All of these performance levels are signiﬁcantly above chance performance for the exclusion instruction. in the standard paradigm. Fisk and Haase (2006) found that exclusion failure does not always occur. non-target stem completion. and then report a different. However. The same level of conscious information therefore has greater discriminatory power in the forced-choice paradigm. As a result.5 They also found that performance on inclusion and exclusion tasks was the same at 43 ms stimulus duration. Unlike Visser and Merickle they argue that the qualitative difference in behavior seen in the experiment. yet inclusion performance remains the same. Further to Visser and Merikle (1999) ﬁnding that increased motivation improves exclusion success. instead of a (cued) free report. 5 When two alternative word choices were presented at a discrimination task. they use a less conservative response criterion and make use of their low level conscious perceptions. and this will not change if criterion levels are changed or not. but not sufﬁcient to freely identify and exclude the target word. Snodgrass’s reliance on the ‘enable’ approach in his OT/S model of perception (discussed below) and Block’s application of the ‘enable’ approach to other experimental paradigms is also problematic. When the two choices were not presented. In normal conditions subjects ignore the 50 ms stimuli. the tall ‘d’ in ‘reader’) to pick out the target word and exclude it. Fisk and Haase found that if the exclusion task is made easier for subjects by asking for a two-alternative forced choice decision (choice between two possible words). (motivation leads to better performance on the exclusion task). does not illustrate the difference between conscious and unconscious perception. exclusion errors were . the task is reasonably easy. What differs in the two paradigms is not the degree of consciousness or access to information. since the ﬁrst word to come to mind would presumably not change if subjects were concentrating more. Problems with the ‘enable’ interpretation of exclusion failure The ﬁrst problem that applies to Block and Snodgrass’s account of exclusion failure stems from an alternative SDT interpretation of the paradigm in which cases of exclusion failure are argued to be mistakes made by the subject whilst doing a difﬁcult task (Fisk & Haase. Irvine / Consciousness and Cognition 18 (2009) 551–560 555 Although Snodgrass and Block differ in their precise accounts of phenomenal consciousness without cognitive access. This alone can explain the different patterns of exclusion success and failure. An experience of low-level or degraded information from the target word is usually sufﬁcient to choose the non-target word from two presented alternatives. they can sometimes exclude the 50 ms target word.g. exclusion failure prevails. then the word stem ‘rea’ and asked to choose the non-target word from the two alternatives ‘reader’ and ‘reason’.21 for 57 ms and . the lack of improvement in the inclusion tasks is expected. The 50 ms stimuli can be phenomenally conscious all along. For more see Fisk and Haase (2006). but this information needs to be ‘enabled’ and accessed by the subject (by using a less conservative response criterion) before the subject will act on it. . By using standard SDT manipulations of the paradigm. reporting the target word instead. There is however a signiﬁcant problem with Block and Snodgrass’s claim that exclusion success at the 50 ms level is a result of an ‘enabled’ phenomenally conscious state. 4246–4247. subjects are able to perform above chance on the exclusion instruction around a 50 ms duration. Subjects often misidentify and exclude the wrong word. More generally. subjects cannot identify the target word precisely enough to successfully follow the same strategy of identifying and excluding the target in order to report a non-target word.E. since subjects will complete the word stem with whatever comes to mind ﬁrst. Subjects are more successful in the forced-choice than the standard version of the paradigm because they can utilize the same information to greater effect. According to Visser and Merikle’s attention explanation. contrary to Visser and Merikle’s results.44 for 43 ms. it provides an example of weakly conscious perception with a conservative response criterion. This leads to successful exclusion in the forced-choice paradigm. This success at following the exclusion instruction suggests that subjects are conscious of at least some information from the 50 ms stimuli since they can choose the non-target word when presented with only two choices. but with increased motivation. Instead. it is not obvious why the attention explanation would predict better inclusion performance. 6. When a subject is shown the target ‘reader’. it might be expected that greater attention would lead to improved performance on all tasks. they both follow an ‘enable’ account of the exclusion failure paradigm. pp. This explanation also accounts for the surprising result that inclusion task performance does not improve for motivated subjects.
in particular to the assumptions that conscious strategies apply to only conscious. There are also deeper problems relating to the ‘enable’ approach used by Snodgrass and Block. thus. so the 50 ms targets must be conscious all along. and can be used to provide models that predict performance levels across different types of task. However. is presented near the 6 Qualitative difference paradigms were suggested by Dixon (1971) as a way of differentiating conscious and unconscious perception.e. This is a fairly serious problem for Snodgrass and Block’s interpretation of the exclusion failure paradigm. The OT/S model suggests that subjects are weakly consciousness of stimuli that are present between the objective thresholds (the ‘Objective’ part of the model) and the subjective threshold. Noesselt et al. other qualitative difference paradigms. subjects have cognitive access to only low level stimulus information such as general shape. but are not sufﬁciently conﬁdent of the information to make full use of it when performing tasks.e. they are capable of exerting control on these perceptions. When subjects are pressed (e. Nonvolitional and counter-volitional effects can include those investigated by Dagenbach. There are several problems with this model. Conscious strategies can affect unconscious perceptual processes. 2006). (Visser and Merikle).6 Sperling phenomenon). Instead. Carr. the equation of performance thresholds with thresholds of consciousness as stated in the OT/S model requires justiﬁcation. Therefore there is no need to invoke any difference in conscious states between the two paradigms to explain exclusion failure. 72). and Wilhelmsen (1989). 7. The OT/S model clearly differentiates between detection and identiﬁcation thresholds. Shifting decision criteria downward onto unconscious stimuli would not help subjects successfully exclude the target word. p. controllability and consciousness are tightly connected. It suggests that typical examples of ‘unconscious’ perception such perceptual defense and most cases of ‘unconscious’ priming are cases of weak conscious perception with a conservative response criterion.g. 2002). participants should be able to control their responses to such stimuli by adopting more lenient response criteria. 2006. He reasons that since subjects can exclude the 50 ms targets. shifting exclusion decision criteria downward should have no effect” (Snodgrass. 1989). but exclusion success in the two-alternative forced choice task.. 2007). They found that different conscious strategies are required to complete different judgment tasks. 1999. no consciousness of the stimulus is possible. thus accessing previously unused information. These problems apply to Snodgrass’s model of unconscious perception. He and his colleagues claim to have found a real case of perceptual defense for phobics identifying drawings of spiders (Snodgrass ASSC presentation. or that the 50 ms perceptions are just not cognitively accessed in the right way (Block and Snodgrass).556 E. subjects are conscious of the stimuli. 560). 2004) which is based on a wholesale acceptance of this approach. subjects are phenomenally conscious of enough information to identify or detect the stimulus in a forced choice task. p.. and ‘new’ words that were not in the study list. Enable or endow? The general case The second set of problems regarding the ‘enable’ approach deals more generally with Snodgrass’s Objective Threshold/ Strategic (OT/S) model of perception (Snodgrass et al. In contrast. which is usually assumed to be unconscious processing (see Martinez et al. the ﬁrst being the assumption that conscious strategies (such as being highly motivated to perform well) will only signiﬁcantly affect conscious perception. As SDT is neutral with regard to the presence or absence of conscious perception in subjects. The OT/S model attempts to differentiate conscious from unconscious perception without running into the problems that normally arise in models of perception. ‘‘If exclusion failure is caused by weakly conscious perceptions. Examples include the exclusion failure paradigm and the false recognition paradigm where subjects have to discriminate between ‘old’ words that they have previously seen in a study list. Snodgrass argues that unconscious processes are uncontrollable and automatic so perceptual strategies would have no effect on them. close to the ODT) (Snodgrass & Shevrin.g.e. and that conscious perception is present down to objective thresholds. but rather produces various nonvolitional or even counter-volitional effects” (Snodgrass & Shevrin. and that these conscious strategies then affect a subject’s subsequent performance on a priming task. Snodgrass claims that conscious strategies such as actively looking for stimuli (looking strategy) or being relaxed and letting stimuli appear (popping strategy) make a small but signiﬁcant difference to nearly unconscious perception (i. Irvine / Consciousness and Cognition 18 (2009) 551–560 In this case the original ﬁnding of exclusion failure does not stem from subjects being unconscious of the 50 ms stimuli. At the objective detection threshold (ODT). as the SDT model suggests. from a series of match and non-match masked words (Jacoby & Whitehouse. since unconscious stimuli are processed automatically. but typically this information is not reported because it is not cognitively accessed. even when the prime is unconsciously perceived (i.. There is also evidence that conscious strategies can affect visual processing in V1. Visser and Merikle’s) exclusion model holds that exclusion failure reﬂects unconscious and hence uncontrollable inﬂuences. Although Block does not follow Snodgrass’s model completely. perceptual processes. and not unconscious. 2002. and not unconscious perceptual processes. For Snodgrass. He argued that qualitative differences in behaviour indicate the distinction between conscious and unconscious perception. the original (i. but Snodgrass argues that the effect of conscious strategies on unconscious perception ‘‘does not involve selective conscious control. That is. . By doing this they can make use of their low level conscious perceptions. they are more motivated). these problems do affect the criteria Block can use in deciding what counts as an example of phenomenal consciousness without cognitive access. and this alternative explanation can be applied to other examples that Block points to as cases of phenomenal consciousness without cognitive access (e. since partial cognitive access can account for the results. they can change their perceptual strategy (the ‘Strategic’ part of the model) by using a less conservative response criterion. leading to exclusion failure in the cued free report task. In this area.
though conscious strategies may still have some effect on near unconscious perception. Alternative accounts suggest that partial cognitive access can account for exclusion failure that unconscious perception may be controllable to some degree. then some cases of perception may unfairly be labeled ‘conscious’ simply in virtue of being controllable. . This indicates that a different kind of perception occurs at the ODT. 1999) are equally problematic. Subtly different tasks may allow for more or less conscious control of unconscious processes. then ‘consciousness’ denotes a particular type of processing and response. there is no way of conclusively showing that conscious strategies can affect only conscious perceptions. The act of responding in forced choice tasks may change the nature of the perceptual processing of near threshold stimuli. Lau (in press) argues that objective measures are good measures of information processing but not necessarily good measures of conscious processing. and looks like an unsolvable one. subjects seem to be conscious of stimuli at objective thresholds despite not freely reporting the presence or identity of stimuli at these levels. A standard criticism of this view is that the term ‘consciousness’ in Snodgrass’s model covers too much. Irvine / Consciousness and Cognition 18 (2009) 551–560 557 ODT). the questions of how much is conscious. and others that can be explained by an ‘endow’ attention-based account (e. As Kouider. 1986). Sperling phenomenon). The standard problematic example is blindsight in which some normal perceptual behaviors can be observed but patients report very little conscious perceptual experience (see e. not necessarily the presence of subjective states. in a forced choice task). since it is only here that response patterns change. Block’s examples are of two types. It is certain that some information below the subjective threshold of free report is conscious (e. Snodgrass and Block’s ‘enable’ account of the exclusion failure paradigm is highly problematic. Snodgrass’s OT/S model is forced to rely on the ODT to distinguish phenomenally conscious from unconscious perception. This problem of whether subjects are always (partly) aware of stimuli near objective thresholds. and since perception between the ODT and the subjective threshold can be made to resemble fully conscious perception. but do not typically access this information. conscious perception can be selectively. If conscious control of unconscious processes is possible. and to what extent. and that these ratings can be used to predict performance on subsequent tasks (e. The degree of conscious control possible over speciﬁc unconscious processes may be dependent on the complex neural architecture underlying perceptual processing. and Dupoux (2007) note. such as the loss of experience of color in achromotopsia (Kentridge. change and inattentional blindness). or that all perception above the objective threshold is conscious. 2007). see Haase & Fisk. de Gardelle. (Snodgrass. This is a standard comment on objective measures of awareness. Heywood. exclusion failure. is at the heart of the ‘enable’ vs. According to Snodgrass. & Cowey. when asked.g. The standard SDT-informed response to this is to state that subjects can give positive conﬁdence ratings to their perceptions down to the ODT. The link between conﬁdence ratings and consciousness also must be argued for. Snodgrass makes another questionable assumption in his OT/S model that follows the ‘enable’ approach. this is the case of phenomenal consciousness without cognitive access. cannot be solved by pointing to the discrepancy between performance on forced choice (objective) and (cued) free report (subjective) tasks. 2004). and what the nature of this consciousness is. ‘endow’ debate. The problems discussed above also threaten many of the examples Block points to as cases of phenomenal consciousness without cognitive access. be made to follow the same pattern ‘all the way down’ to the ODT. and loss of experience of motion (Heywood & Zihl. and their general reliance on the ‘enable’ account in their models of phenomenal consciousness with cognitive access is difﬁcult to justify. Without pre-deﬁning consciousness and getting into a circular argument. when forced to give conﬁdence ratings. and it is precisely this action that may change the nature of the perceptual process and corresponding levels of awareness. He states that response behavior can. partial awareness of stimuli may be present). subjects are partly conscious at these levels. Subjects are therefore conscious of stimuli down to the ODT. for supporters of an ‘endow’ approach to perception. 2004). when they are in fact cases of unconscious perception that are capable of being consciously controlled to some degree. responses change radically and cannot be affected by the same kinds of variables that are capable of changing the response criterion at longer stimulus durations. intentionally controlled and unconscious perception cannot be. This contrasts with Snodgrass’s suggestion of a stringent threshold under which no control is possible. Although subjects often need cajoling into giving conﬁdence ratings for their perceptions of stimuli near the ODT.g.g. Snodgrass argues that this level of perception is also conscious. and when not forced. If all perception above the ODT is deﬁned as being conscious.g. since objective and subjective measures (that do obviously index conscious processing) do not always correlate. or whether being forced to act makes this information conscious.g. Snodgrass’s equation of intentional controllability with consciousness is therefore a dubious one. At the ODT. However. Although it seems unlikely that conscious strategies could direct unconscious perceptual processes to successfully follow exclusion instructions. it is not clear which unconscious perceptual processes can be consciously controlled. this may simply suggest that. under the right task instructions (e. However. since the forced choice tasks that deﬁne objective thresholds seem as though they might be completed using unconscious perception. personal communication).g. they are not conscious at these levels. and that consciousness may be endowed when subjects are forced to act. as self-monitoring tasks such as forming conﬁdence judgments may occur unconsciously (Koriat. Perception above the subjective threshold is conscious. Both types of tasks demand action from the subject. those that succumb to the partial awareness account (e. though not to the same degree. As an account of perception that relies on response patterns to measure consciousness.E. Weiskrantz. Other cases that exhibit dissociations between behavior and reported experience.
and then think of some other word instead.g. That is. it is possible that subjects can have cognitive access but no reﬂexive consciousness of the 50 ms target words and so fail to exclude them. Irvine / Consciousness and Cognition 18 (2009) 551–560 8. ‘‘In the ‘conscious’ case (i. Snodgrass and colleagues do not strictly follow Block’s tripartite distinction and state that the important distinction is between phenomenal consciousness and reﬂective consciousness. Access or reﬂexive consciousness Block and Snodgrass argue that exclusion failure is based on subjects being phenomenally conscious of stimuli but not making use of this information: information is phenomenally conscious but not cognitively accessed or made available for reasoning and evaluating.. The weak encoding of information that is available from a 50 ms display. above subjective threshold: successful exclusion). (Snodgrass et al. . 863). In a later discussion of the paradigm. therefore. and deduce that what they saw was ‘realm’. Subjects in the standard paradigm might also perceive the general shape of ‘reader’. While Snodgrass et al. In this case. Working within Block’s own framework. exclusion failure indicates a lack of reﬂexive processing. .e. Therefore exclusion failure is consistent with the presence of some cognitive access. This sort of task requires concentration and a degree of internal reﬂection and reasoning that does not come easily to subjects. Exclusion failure can occur simply from the lack of a sufﬁciently detailed experience of a target word. reﬂective processes can be present in cases of exclusion failure. Perception above the subjective threshold is reﬂexively conscious. the subjective threshold indexes ‘‘higher order reﬂective awareness” via ‘‘higher order metacognitive process involving reﬂecting upon and evaluating various phenomenal contents”.. the subject must have a state that is about the subject’s own perceptual experience. and argues that a subject must be capable of some sort of reﬂection or internal monologue in order to successfully follow the exclusion instruction.558 E. memory and voluntary control of attention. Results from these paradigms cannot therefore be used as examples of phenomenal consciousness without cognitive access. This argument applies not only to the exclusion failure paradigm. Section 2). evidence in the ‘exclusion’ case of experiential contents (e. 2001. metacognitive.. Successful exclusion seems to depend on some sort of reasoning about the subject’s own internal states and experiences. but they have insufﬁcient information to use the identify-exclude strategy to reach the correct response. In excluding ‘realm’ they may report ‘reader’. as of seeing ‘reason’) without the kind of access required for report. . deduce that what they saw was ‘reader’. Block (2001. The information and strategies required to successfully perform the exclusion task in the standard and forced-choice paradigms are very different. 2001. which does not mean a lack of access consciousness altogether. the exclusion failure paradigm and similar qualitative difference paradigms are designed around a conception of consciousness that ignores lower levels of access and conscious information processing. evaluation of alternatives. Subjects in the forced-choice paradigm may experience the tall ‘d’ in ‘reader’. subjects can be reﬂectively aware of word shape. but high quality sensory information necessary for this kind of reasoning to consistently reach the correct response. Subjects do not lack the ability to reason with the information they have experienced. then when they are presented with two alternative responses ‘reader’ and ‘reason’. . Neither author has successfully argued that exclusion failure provides an example of phenomenal consciousness without access (Block) or reﬂective (Snodgrass) consciousness. Therefore what subjects lack in the standard paradigm is not reﬂective consciousness or the ability to perform complex cognitive tasks. decision-making.’s account does not succumb to the same problems as Block’s does. but can also be leveled at other qualitative difference paradigms like the false memory task that depend on complex reﬂexive processes. 2005. planning. p. while perception below this threshold is ‘weakly’ or phenomenally conscious. Section 2). Therefore cases of exclusion failure cannot be taken to be cases of phenomenal consciousness without access/reﬂective consciousness. 49). since this word also has a tall letter near the middle of the word. and results from similar qualitative difference paradigms cannot be used in this way either. However. Therefore exclusion failure does not indicate a lack of higher order awareness or access to information. results in failure at the exclusion task.and thus the sense of ‘conscious’ that is relevant here is what might be termed a ‘reﬂexive’ sense” (Block. 2001. According to them. Section 2). . Fisk and Haase’s alternative interpretation of exclusion failure discussed above can be used to argue that even high order. They can then select the non-target alternative since it is clearly a different shape.reﬂexivity is a special kind of access” (Block. p. 2005) discusses perceptual paradigms similar to the exclusion failure paradigm. However. thus failing at the task. The complexity of the paradigm ensures that following exclusion instructions is difﬁcult even at the 250 ms duration: ‘‘Tony Jack tells me that many of his subjects in this paradigm complained about how much effort was required to follow the exclusion instructions” (Block. Cases of exclusion failure therefore cannot be taken to be cases of phenomenal consciousness without cognitive access. In extending the idea of partial cognitive accessibility it will be suggested that exclusion failure effects are not the result of a lack of cognitive access. The subject must be able to recognize that the ﬁrst word they thought of to complete the stem was probably the target word they just saw. Exclusion failure can however be used to assess the level and detail of information subjects experience different experimental conditions. rather than a lack of higher order conscious reasoning. A criticism of Snodgrass’s position can be made following the partial awareness account of Fisk and Haase.” (Block. Block concludes that ‘‘There is. Block states that ‘‘global accessibility (access consciousness) does not logically require reﬂexivity. there is a signiﬁcant problem for Block in describing just what sort of consciousness is necessary for successful exclusion of the target word. and use high order reasoning abilities to exclude the target. so reﬂexive processes are necessary in addition to standard ‘ﬁrst order’ access consciousness. 2004.
(1990). Block. attention. & Cowey. P.. Acknowledgements I am grateful to the many helpful suggestions made by reviewers. accessibility. 46–52.. The cognitive neurosciences (3rd ed. 42. but this low level of information is often not sufﬁcient to successfully identify and exclude the target work in the standard paradigm. and subliminal processing: A testable taxonomy. Gazzaniga (Ed. Neural mechanisms for access to consciousness. & Changeux. surfaces and constancies in cerebral achromatopsia. (2004). References Blackwell. 481–499.. 36. Fisk. . Consciousness and accessibility. (1989). Journal of Memory and Language. It appears that positive and negative responses are just responses.. Bruner. Trends in Cognitive Neuroscience. Two neural correlates of consciousness. 118. Perception. K. 10. (1958). Naccache. In M. Behavioral and Brain Sciences. (2007). 373–411. Sackur. Bruner. Block. S. There is also room to question Snodgrass’s assumption that all perception above the objective threshold is conscious. 15. 412–443. unconscious perception: An analysis in terms of psychophysical indicator methodology. 42.E. D. 1–37. Subjects can be aware of low level features of stimuli. Irvine / Consciousness and Cognition 18 (2009) 551–560 559 9. Motion blindness. Subjects may be aware and able to reason about the information that is available in the visual system. Conclusions Block and Snodgrass’s claims that SDT can be used to identify access/reﬂective and phenomenal consciousness. 46. (2006). I.). Dehaene. 1145–1157). They suggest that exclusion failure occurs from a lack of higher order conscious processing. but it can be more simply explained by the availability of only poor quality encoded information from the short 50 ms stimulus duration. and the ‘enable’ and OT/S models used to interpret the paradigm in this way require further justiﬁcation. and behavior. F. An illusion of memory: False recognition inﬂuenced by unconscious perception. & Wilhelmsen. P. 197–219. Indicators of perception: 1. Humphreys (Ed. Goldiamond. L. The ﬁnal problem relates to the way in which access/reﬂective consciousness is ascribed (or not) to subjects by Block and Snodgrass. Block. C. There is thus the possibility of some conscious control of unconscious perception. New York: McGraw-Hill. Neuropsychologia. J. Studies of psychophysical methods for measuring visual thresholds. Kentridge. Cheesman. & Swets. A response is just a report of a decision. 300–308. (1989). Journal of Experimental Psychology: General.. S. G. L. 821–830. 13. Green. 30. Vision Research. Tension and tension-release as organizing factors in perception.. or for Snodgrass’s ‘enable’ approach as outlined in the OT/S model. Carr. N. & Sergent.. and can no more be taken to indicate differences in types of consciousness than to indicate the difference between conscious and unconscious perception. 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