Self-awareness affects vision

Eric L. Smith*, Marcia Grabowecky, Satoru Suzuki

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalLetterpeer-review

5 Scopus citations


What we see can be influenced by attention [1,2] and concurrent sensory inputs from other modalities, such as accompanying sounds [3,4], but can high-level mental factors such as states of self-awareness systematically affect vision? Because associative learning is a fundamental property of the nervous system, we hypothesized that different states of self-awareness might selectively enhance perception of specific visual patterns based on experiential associations. Perception of self-faces provided an ideal test case because of the common experiential associations between perception of mirrored and un-mirrored self-faces and unique states of self-awareness. We found, consistent with the typical experience of looking at a mirrored self-face in privacy and an un-mirrored (for example, photographed) self-face in the company of others, that recognition of mirrored self-faces was superior when self-awareness was internally directed, whereas recognition of un-mirrored self-faces was superior when self-awareness was socially directed. As mirrored and un-mirrored faces are highly similar (as in Figure 1B), our results indicate that states of self-awareness affect visual perception with considerable pattern resolution. This has the intriguing general implication that, when a specific state of self-awareness frequently coincides with visual perception of specific patterns, the mental state and visual processing may become associated so that evoking that state of self-awareness selectively enhances visual perception of associated patterns.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)R414-R415
JournalCurrent Biology
Issue number10
StatePublished - May 20 2008

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


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