How is phenomenal consciousness related to attention?


  • Prinz (2000). A neurofunctional theory of visual consciousness. Consciousness and Cognition 9 (2), 243-59.
  • Mack and Rock (1998) Inattentional Blindness MIT Press.
  • Christof Koch & Naotsugu Tsuchiya, Attention and Consciousness: Two Distinct Brain Processes. Trends in Cognitive Sciences (2007) 11, 16-22
  • Chris Mole, “Attention in the Absence of Consciousness?” forthcoming in Trends in Cognitive Sciences
  • Chris Mole, “Attention and Consciousness”, Journal of Consciousness Studies.


  • Change blindness = Failure to notice large changes in the visual scene occurring in full view.
  • Inattentional blindness = Failure to detect unexpected objects that are not under visual attention.
  • Attentional blink
  • One proposal - the richness of visual experience is an illusion. We see only what we attend to.

Four kinds of cases

Consciousness with attention

  • Identifying novel and unexpected stimuli

Consciousness without attention

  • Perception of non-attended area - the gist of a photograph
  • Male/female, famous/not-famous face discrimination in non-attended periphery (but cannot distinguish rotated 'T' from rotated 'L')

Attention without consciousness

Commonsense psychology suggests that it is impossible. "X attends to Y" entails "X is conscious of Y".

  • Priming of invisible words being attended to
  • Nudes of opposite sex suppressed by continuous flash attract attention
  • Attention to target in blindfield improves reaction time in blindsight subject GY


  • Shows only attention to a location without conscious awareness of the object at that location.
  • Fails to show that it is possible to attend to an object without being consciously aware of it.

Neither consciousness nor attention

  • Information in the optic fibre


Prinz's theory

  • Attention necessary for consciousness (but might not be sufficient).
  • Visual consciousness a matter of attention directing information from sensory systems into short-term memory.

Block's objections

  • Intriligator and Cavanagh (2001). The Spatial Resolution of Visual Attention. Cognitive Psychology, 43, 171-216.
  • According to Block, subjects have visual experience of the lines as individually distinct even though they cannot attend individually to some of the lines.
  • Aerodontalgia - perhaps there is P-consciousness depsite the lack of attention.