Poster D7, Monday, March 26, 8:00-10:00 am, Exhibit Hall C
The effect of cognitive load on conscious access to visual sensory inputs across tasks of varying precision
Moriah Stendel1, Mathieu Landry1, David Milton1, Amir Raz1,2; 1McGill University, 2Lady Davis Research Institute, Jewish General Hospital
Our conscious experience appears to be ineffably rich, yet certain paradigms consistently defy this intuition. This debate permeates the field of consciousness literature, with ample empirical support for both sides. Given that most evidence against a rich theory of consciousness is rooted in the notion that attention is requisite for conscious experience, the present study aims to examine how a cognitive load affects the richness of consciousness at both a cognitive and metacognitive level. Our study employs a modified Sperling task in tandem with a cognitive load; participants report on colours that appear in brief presentation while either remembering a string of characters (high- load condition) or not (no-load condition). We repeated this design across three tasks that capture conscious experience along a spectrum of sensitivity, from high precision responses to lower grain responses. Mixed linear models reveal that a cognitive load affects the quality of mental representations and not just access mechanisms. While our findings imply that a cognitive load impairs the richness of conscious perception in tasks that require goal-driven attention, rich conscious experience is preserved in less precise, gist-based tasks, regardless of cognitive load. Metacognition appears to track the quality of the representation, as it is not impaired by the cognitive load. This suggests the existence of a phenomenal conscious experience that is available to gist and metacognitive reports, but that first-order reports with high spatial precision rest on attentional mechanisms.
Topic Area: ATTENTION: Other