Evidence for visual temporal order processing below the threshold for conscious perception


  • Chassignolle Morgane
  • Giersch Anne
  • Coull Jennifer T


  • Temporal order
  • Subconscious
  • Visual
  • Timing
  • Attention
  • Simultaneity

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Correctly discriminating the order of events arising in our environment is a fundamental temporal process that allows us to better understand and interact with our dynamic world. However, if consecutive events are separated by an interval of less than 20-40 ms, we cannot consciously perceive their relative order. Nevertheless, indirect evidence suggests that the sequential order of events separated by less than 20 ms might still be processed subconsciously. In our study, we aimed to provide evidence that temporal order processing can occur below the threshold for conscious perception. We developed a novel paradigm in which participants were instructed that a visual cue, composed of two coloured stimuli appearing in a particular order, would allow them to predict the shape of a subsequent target. The interval between the two stimuli allowed temporal order to be consciously perceived (66 ms interval) or not (17 ms interval), as verified by performance on a separate temporal order judgment task. Performance was compared to a control condition that provided no predictive information. In both experiments, reaction times were faster in the order-cue conditions compared to the control condition, whether the SOA separating events was longer (66 ms) or shorter (17 ms) than the typical temporal order threshold. Therefore, even when participants could not consciously perceive the temporal order of two consecutive stimuli, the relative sequence of events was nevertheless processed and used to optimise performance. These results suggest that temporal order can be processed subconsciously.

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