The observant mind: self-awareness of attentional status

Noriko Yamagishi, Stephen J. Anderson, Mitsuo Kawato

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Visual perception is dependent not only on low-level sensory input but also on high-level cognitive factors such as attention. In this paper, we sought to determine whether attentional processes can be internally monitored for the purpose of enhancing behavioural performance. To do so, we developed a novel paradigm involving an orientation discrimination task in which observers had the freedom to delay target presentation--by any amount required--until they judged their attentional focus to be complete. Our results show that discrimination performance is significantly improved when individuals self-monitor their level of visual attention and respond only when they perceive it to be maximal. Although target delay times varied widely from trial-to-trial (range 860 ms-12.84 s), we show that their distribution is Gaussian when plotted on a reciprocal latency scale. We further show that the neural basis of the delay times for judging attentional status is well explained by a linear rise-to-threshold model. We conclude that attentional mechanisms can be self-monitored for the purpose of enhancing human decision-making processes, and that the neural basis of such processes can be understood in terms of a simple, yet broadly applicable, linear rise-to-threshold model.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3421-3426
Number of pages6
JournalProceeding of the Royal Society: Series B
Issue number1699
Early online date9 Jun 2010
Publication statusPublished - 22 Nov 2010


  • adult
  • attention
  • awareness
  • humans
  • visual pattern recognition


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