Low pre-stimulus EEG alpha power amplifies visual awareness but not visual sensitivity

Christopher S. Y. Benwell (Lead / Corresponding author), Andra Coldea, Monika Harvey, Gregor Thut (Lead / Corresponding author)

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Abstract

Pre-stimulus oscillatory neural activity has been linked to the level of awareness of sensory stimuli. More specifically, the power of low frequency oscillations (primarily in the alpha-band, i.e. 8-14 Hz) prior to stimulus-onset is inversely related to measures of subjective performance in visual tasks, such as confidence and visual awareness. Intriguingly, the same EEG-signature does not seem to influence objective measures of task performance (i.e. accuracy). We here examined whether this dissociation holds when stringent accuracy measures are used. Previous EEG-studies have employed 2-alternative forced-choice (2-AFC) discrimination tasks to link pre-stimulus oscillatory activity to correct/incorrect responses as an index of accuracy/objective performance at the single-trial level. However, 2-AFC tasks do not provide a good estimate of single-trial accuracy, as many of the responses classified as correct will be contaminated by guesses (with the chance correct response rate being 50%). Here instead, we employed a 19-AFC letter identification task to measure accuracy and the subjectively reported level of perceptual awareness on each trial. As the correct guess rate is negligible (~5%), this task provides a purer measure of accuracy. Our results replicate the inverse relationship between pre-stimulus alpha/beta-band power and perceptual awareness ratings in the absence of a link to discrimination accuracy. Pre-stimulus oscillatory phase did not predict either subjective awareness or accuracy. Our results hence confirm a dissociation of the pre-stimulus EEG power - task performance link for subjective versus objective measures of performance, and further substantiate pre-stimulus alpha power as a neural predictor of visual awareness.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages16
JournalEuropean Journal of Neuroscience
Early online date2 Mar 2021
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 2 Mar 2021

Keywords

  • alpha
  • EEG
  • oscillations
  • perceptual awareness

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