Attention driven phantom vision: measuring the sensory strength of attentional templates and their relation to visual mental imagery and aphantasia

Rebecca Keogh*, Joel Pearson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

When we search for an object in an array or anticipate attending to a future object, we create an ‘attentional template' of the object. The definitions of attentional templates and visual imagery share many similarities as well as many of the same neural characteristics. However, the phenomenology of these attentional templates and their neural similarities to visual imagery and perception are rarely, if ever discussed. Here, we investigate the relationship between these two forms of non-retinal phantom vision through the use of the binocular rivalry technique, which allows us to measure the sensory strength of attentional templates in the absence of concurrent perceptual stimuli. We find that attentional templates correlate with both feature-based attention and visual imagery. Attentional templates, like imagery, were significantly disrupted by the presence of irrelevant visual stimuli, while feature-based attention was not. We also found that a special population who lack the ability to visualize (aphantasia), showed evidence of feature-based attention when measured using the binocular rivalry paradigm, but not attentional templates. Taken together, these data suggest functional similarities between attentional templates and visual imagery, advancing the theory of visual imagery as a general simulation tool used across cognition.
Original languageEnglish
Article number20190688
Pages (from-to)1-10
Number of pages10
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Volume376
Issue number1817
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2021
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • visual attention
  • visual imagery
  • aphantasia
  • binocular rivalry
  • attention templates

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