New Research From Psychological Science

Natural-Scene Perception Requires Attention

Michael A. Cohen, George A. Alvarez, and Ken Nakayama

Many studies have indicated that visual awareness can occur in the absence of attention, but this new study contradicts those findings. Participants were asked to complete two tasks: one in which they visually tracked moving discs and another in which they tracked a specific number in a stream of numbers and letters. In each task, a natural scene (e.g., a mountain) appeared in the background during the final trial. The participants’ perception of the scene was impaired by the tasks, and the degree of impairment correlated with the difficulty of the task, which suggests that attention is required to perceive natural scenes.

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