Single neuron evidence of inattentional blindness in humans

Brandon Freiberg, Moran Cerf*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Recording directly from the brain of a patient undergoing neurosurgery with electrodes implanted deep in her skull, we identified neurons that change their properties when the patient became consciously aware of content. Specifically, we showed the patient an established clip of a gorilla passing through the screen, unnoticeable, in a classic inattentional blindness task, and identified a neuron in the right amygdala that fired only when the patient was aware of the gorilla. A different neuron coded the moment of insight, when the patient realized that she had missed the salient gorilla in previous trials. A third cluster of neurons fired when the patient was exposed to a post-clip question (“How many passes did you count?“) and reflected on the content. Neurons in this cluster altered their response behavior between unaware and aware states. To investigate the interplay between the neurons' activity and characterize the potential cascade of information flow in the brain that leads to conscious awareness, we looked at the neurons' properties change, their activities’ alignment and the correlation across the cells. Examining the coherence between the spiking activity of the responsive neurons and the field potentials in neighboring sites we identified an alignment in the alpha and theta bands. This spike-field coherence hints at an involvement of attention and memory circuits in the perceptual awareness of the stimulus. Taken together, our results suggest that conscious awareness of content emerges when there is alignment between individual neurons' activity and the local field potentials. Our work provides direct neural correlate for the psychological process by which one can look at things directly but fail to perceive them with the “mind's eye”.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number108111
StatePublished - Jan 28 2022


  • Consciousness
  • Human electrophysiology
  • Inattentional blindness
  • Singe neuron recording
  • Spike-field coherence

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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