Are there unconscious perceptual processes?

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

60 Scopus citations


Blindsight and vision for action seem to be exemplars of unconscious visual processes. However, researchers have recently argued that blindsight is not really a kind of unconscious vision but is rather severely degraded conscious vision. Morten Overgaard and colleagues have recently developed new methods for measuring the visibility of visual stimuli. Studies using these methods show that reported clarity of visual stimuli correlates with accuracy in both normal individuals and blindsight patients. Vision for action has also come under scrutiny. Recent findings seem to show that information processed by the dorsal stream for online action contributes to visual awareness. Some interpret these results as showing that some dorsal stream processes are conscious visual processes (e.g., Gallese, 2007; Jacob & Jeannerod, 2003). The aim of this paper is to provide new support for the more traditional view that blindsight and vision for action are genuinely unconscious perceptual processes. I argue that individuals with blindsight do not have access to the kind of purely qualitative color and size information which normal individuals do. So, even though people with blindsight have a kind of cognitive consciousness, visual information processing in blindsight patients is not associated with a distinctly visual phenomenology. I argue further that while dorsal stream processing seems to contribute to visual awareness, only information processed by the early dorsal stream (V1, V2, and V3) is broadcast to working memory. Information processed by later parts of the dorsal stream (the parietal lobe) never reaches working memory and hence does not correlate with phenomenal awareness. I conclude that both blindsight and vision for action are genuinely unconscious visual processes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)449-463
Number of pages15
JournalConsciousness and Cognition
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Blindsight
  • Consciousness
  • Dorsal stream
  • Enactive theory of perception
  • Perception
  • Unconscious vision
  • Ventral stream
  • Vision for action
  • Vision for perception

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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