Thorsten Albrecht and Uwe Mattler (2012)

Individual differences in subjective experience and objective performance in metacontrast masking

Journal of Vision, 12(5):1-24.

Examined whether participants with different objective performance nonetheless subjectively experience the stimulation in the same way in 4 experiments. In Experiments 1 and 2 the same 30 subjects (mean age 23 years) participated. In Experiment 3 only 29 of the original 30 participated (1 underachiever refused to participate again), and in Experiment 4 a new group of 31 subjects (mean age 22 years) took part. In one group of observers objective performance increased with increasing target-mask stimulus onset asynchrony (SOA), whereas in another group performance decreased with increasing SOA. In addition, a group of overachievers showed ceiling effects whereas a group of underachievers hardly exceeded chance levels of performance irrespective of SOA. The differences between observers' objective measures of performance correspond to differences in participants' phenomenological reports of subjective experience. This indicates that participants differ in their access to specific perceptual cues that they use spontaneously to solve the task. When participants were instructed to use only a single specific cue, the instructed cue determined participants' objective performance considerably in 2 experiments. Nevertheless, masking functions remained similar with and without the cued instruction, and the effect of cues depended on the initial masking function of individuals. Findings suggest that individuals with different masking functions differ also in terms of phenomenology, used cues, and response strategy. The authors conclude that the relation between subjective experience, reported usage of perceptual cues, and objective performance in the metacontrast masking task deserves further investigation.

open access article