Multisensory enhancement elicited by unconscious visual stimuli.
Barutchu A., Spence C., Humphreys GW.
The merging of information from different senses (i.e., multisensory integration) can facilitate information processing. Processing enhancements have been observed with signals that are irrelevant to the task at hand, and with cues that are non-predictive. Such findings are consistent with the notion that multiple sensory signals are sometimes integrated automatically. Multisensory enhancement has even been reported with stimuli that have been presented subliminally, though only with meaningful multisensory relations that have already been learned. The question of whether there exist cases where multisensory effects occur without either learning or awareness has, though, not been clearly established in the literature to date. Here, we present a case study of a patient with Posterior Cortical Atrophy, who was unable to consciously perceive visual stimuli with our task parameters, yet who nevertheless still exhibited signs of multisensory enhancement even with unlearned relations between audiovisual stimuli. In a simple speeded detection task, both response speed, and the variability of reaction times, decreased in a similar manner to controls for multisensory stimuli. These results are consistent with the view that the conscious perception of stimuli and prior learning are not always a prerequisite for multisensory integration to enhance human performance.