Pattern of neuronal activity associated with conscious and unconscious processing of visual signals
Following striate cortex damage in monkeys and humans there can be residual function mediated by parallel visual pathways. In humans this can sometimes be associated with a “feeling” that something has happened, especially with rapid movement or abrupt onset. For less transient events, discriminative performance may still be well above chance even when the subject reports no conscious awareness of the stimulus. In a previous study we examined parameters that yield good residual visual performance in the “blind” hemifield of a subject with unilateral damage to the primary visual cortex. With appropriate parameters we demonstrated good discriminative performance, both with and without conscious awareness of a visual event. These observations raise the possibility of imaging the brain activity generated in the “aware” and the “unaware” modes, with matched levels of discrimination performance, and hence of revealing patterns of brain activation associated with visual awareness. The intact hemifield also allows a comparison with normal vision. Here we report the results of a functional magnetic resonance imaging study on the same subject carried out under aware and unaware stimulus conditions. The results point to a shift in the pattern of activity from neocortex in the aware mode, to subcortical structures in the unaware mode. In the aware mode prestriate and dorsolateral prefrontal cortices (area 46) are active. In the unaware mode the superior colliculus is active, together with medial and orbital prefrontal cortical sites.