We See More Than We Can Report: "Cost Free" Color Phenomenality Outside Focal Attention

Zohar Z. Bronfman, Noam Brezis, Hilla Jacobson, Marius Usher*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

113 Scopus citations


The distinction between access consciousness and phenomenal consciousness is a subject of intensive debate. According to one view, visual experience overflows the capacity of the attentional and working memory system: We see more than we can report. According to the opposed view, this perceived richness is an illusion-we are aware only of information that we can subsequently report. This debate remains unresolved because of the inevitable reliance on report, which is limited in capacity. To bypass this limitation, this study utilized color diversity-a unique summary statistic-which is sensitive to detailed visual information. Participants were shown a Sperling-like array of colored letters, one row of which was precued. After reporting a letter from the cued row, participants estimated the color diversity of the noncued rows. Results showed that people could estimate the color diversity of the noncued array without a cost to letter report, which suggests that color diversity is registered automatically, outside focal attention, and without consuming additional working memory resources.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)1394-1403
Number of pages10
JournalPsychological Science
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Sperling paradigm
  • attention
  • iconic memory
  • phenomenal vs. access consciousness
  • summary statistics
  • visual working memory


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