Awareness-related activity in prefrontal and parietal cortices in blindsight reflects more than superior visual performance.
Persaud N., Davidson M., Maniscalco B., Mobbs D., Passingham RE., Cowey A., Lau H.
Many imaging studies report activity in the prefrontal and parietal cortices when subjects are aware as opposed to unaware of visual stimuli. One possibility is that this activity simply reflects higher signal strength or the superior task performance that is associated with awareness. To find out, we studied the hemianope GY who has unilateral destruction of almost all primary visual cortices. He exhibits 'blindsight', that is, he claims to have no conscious visual phenomenology (i.e., no visual qualia), for stationary stimuli presented to his right visual field (the blind field), although he can press keys to distinguish between different stimuli presented there. We presented to him a visual discrimination task, and equated performance for stimuli presented to the left or right visual field by presenting low contrast stimuli to his normal (left) field and high contrast stimuli to his blind (right) field. Superior accuracy can be a serious confound, and our paradigm allows us to control for it and avoid this confound. Even when performance was matched, and the signal strength was lower, visual stimulation to the normal (conscious) field led to higher activity in the prefrontal and parietal cortices. These results indicate that the activity in the prefrontal and parietal areas that has been reported in previous studies of awareness is not just due to a (signal strength or performance) confounds. One possibility is that it reflects the superior 'metacognitive' capacity that is associated with awareness, because GY was better able to distinguish between his own correct and incorrect responses for stimuli presented to his normal field than to his blind field.