Journal Article

Controlling for performance capacity confounds in neuroimaging studies of conscious awareness

Jorge Morales, Jeffrey Chiang and Hakwan Lau

in Neuroscience of Consciousness

Published on behalf of Neuroscience

Volume 2015, issue 1
Published online November 2015 | e-ISSN: 2057-2107 | DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.1093/nc/niv008

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Studying the neural correlates of conscious awareness depends on a reliable comparison between activations associated with awareness and unawareness. One particularly difficult confound to remove is task performance capacity, i.e. the difference in performance between the conditions of interest. While ideally task performance capacity should be matched across different conditions, this is difficult to achieve experimentally. However, differences in performance could theoretically be corrected for mathematically. One such proposal is found in a recent paper by Lamy, Salti and Bar-Haim [Lamy D, Salti M, Bar-Haim Y. Neural correlates of subjective awareness and unconscious processing: an ERP study. J Cognitive Neurosci 2009,21:1435-46], who put forward a corrective method for an electroencephalography experiment. We argue that their analysis is essentially grounded in a version of High Threshold Theory, which has been shown to be inferior in general to Signal Detection Theory. We show through a series of computer simulations that their correction method only partially removes the influence of performance capacity, which can yield misleading results. We present a mathematical correction method based on Signal Detection Theory that is theoretically capable of removing performance capacity confounds. We discuss the limitations of mathematically correcting for performance capacity confounds in imaging studies and its impact for theories about consciousness.

Keywords: neural correlates of consciousness (NCC); signal detection theory (SDT); high threshold theory; EEG; unconscious perception

Journal Article.  7927 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Neuroscience ; Cognition and Behavioural Neuroscience ; Neuroscientific Techniques ; Cognitive Neuroscience ; Consciousness