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A key goal of consciousness science is identifying neural signatures of being aware versus unaware of simple stimuli. This is often investigated in the context of near-threshold detection, with reports of stimulus awareness being linked to heightened activation in a frontoparietal network. However, because of reports of stimulus presence typically being associated with higher confidence than reports of stimulus absence, these results could be explained by frontoparietal regions encoding stimulus visibility, decision confidence, or both. In an exploratory analysis, we leverage fMRI data from 35 human participants (20 females) to disentangle these possibilities. We first show that, whereas stimulus identity was best decoded from the visual cortex, stimulus visibility (presence vs absence) was best decoded from prefrontal regions. To control for effects of confidence, we then selectively sampled trials before decoding to equalize confidence distributions between absence and presence responses. This analysis revealed striking differences in the neural correlates of subjective visibility in PFC ROIs, depending on whether or not differences in confidence were controlled for. We interpret our findings as highlighting the importance of controlling for metacognitive aspects of the decision process in the search for neural correlates of visual awareness.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT While much has been learned over the past two decades about the neural basis of visual awareness, the role of the PFC remains a topic of debate. By applying decoding analyses to functional brain imaging data, we show that prefrontal representations of subjective visibility are contaminated by neural correlates of decision confidence. We propose a new analysis method to control for these metacognitive aspects of awareness reports, and use it to reveal confidence-independent correlates of perceptual judgments in a subset of prefrontal areas.

Original publication




Journal article


J Neurosci

Publication Date





2562 - 2569


awareness, confidence, decoding, fMRI, visibility, Consciousness, Female, Humans, Judgment, Magnetic Resonance Imaging, Male, Photic Stimulation, Visual Cortex, Visual Perception