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AbstractThe term ‘amodal’ is a key topic in several different research fields across experimental psychology and cognitive neuroscience, including in the areas of developmental and perception science. However, despite being regularly used in the literature, the term means something different to the researchers working in the different contexts. Many developmental scientists conceive of the term as referring to those perceptual qualities, such as, for example, the size and shape of an object, that can be picked up by multiple senses (e.g., vision and touch potentially providing information relevant to the same physical stimulus/property). However, the amodal label is also widely used in the case of those qualities that are not directly sensory, such as, for example, numerosity, rhythm, synchrony, etc. Cognitive neuroscientists, by contrast, tend to use the term amodal to refer to those central cognitive processes and brain areas that do not appear to be preferentially responsive to a particular sensory modality or to those symbolic or formal representations that essentially lack any modality and that are assumed to play a role in the higher processing of sensory information. Finally, perception scientists sometimes refer to the phenomenon of ‘amodal completion’, referring to the spontaneous completion of perceptual information that is missing when occluded objects are presented to observers. In this paper, we review the various different ways in which the term ‘amodal’ has been used in the literature and the evidence supporting the various uses of the term. Morever, we highlight some of the various properties that have been suggested to be ‘amodal’ over the years. Then, we try to address some of the questions that arise from the reviewed evidence, such as: Do different uses of the ‘term’ refer to different domains, for example, sensory information, perceptual processes, or perceptual representations? Are there any commonalities among the different uses of the term? To what extent is research on cross-modal associations (or correspondences) related to, or can shed light on, amodality? And how is the notion of amodal related to multisensory integration? Based on the reviewed evidence, it is argued that there is, as yet, no convincing empirical evidence to support the claim that amodal sensory qualities exist. We thus suggest that use of the term amodal would be more meaningful with respect to abstract cognition rather than necessarily sensory perception, the latter being more adequately explained/understood in terms of highly redundant cross-modal correspondences.

Original publication




Journal article


Psychonomic Bulletin & Review


Springer Science and Business Media LLC

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